Morgan and West: Lying, Cheating Scoundrels

Victorian duo Morgan and West have become part of the magic furniture at the Fringe. Famed for their slick performance and well-mannered loquacious humour, they chat about their craft and the two shows they’re bringing to the Fringe

Feature by Rebecca Paul | 16 Aug 2012
  • Morgan & West3


"With Clockwork Miracles we want to deliver some really strong, original and entertaining magic that, as well as being baffling, is visually and aurally impressive. We want the show to be a spectacle, rather than just a bunch of tricks," they explain.

"Our second show, Lying, Cheating Scoundrels, is unlike anything we've done before – and as far as we know unlike any magic show before at the Fringe. Inviting our audience to sit round a card table with us has brought a whole new range of challenges and opportunities, presentational and methodological, and the show has grown into a very different beast to what we first imagined."

The image of the Victorian Magician is integral to every aspect of their work and while it provides a springboard for ideas, it can also make devising the tricks that bit more difficult.

"The aesthetic influences everything we do – we can’t use a prop that looks out of place or borrow a phone from a volunteer, as stylistic anachronism shatters the experience for an audience. Even the humour in our show has to come from our characters. It’s challenging, but these limitations force you to be creative and original, which is something we strive for."

Watching the two perform in such synchronicity, one wonders how long it takes to produce such a polished act but apparently it's never quite perfect.

"Every time you do a show, or a trick, or even just say a line, there’s a chance to tinker with the delivery and try to improve: every show has the potential to be better than the last. Still, we’re known for being very polished on stage (it is something of a necessity when working in a double act) and that takes a lot of work. Each Edinburgh show is built over the course of a year or so. We get up each morning and work on the tricks, or the props, or the million other things that go towards making a show.

"All magic is based upon slipping a lie past your audience that they won't notice. Some routines require lots of these lies, all piled on top of each other – this can be quite tricky (if you’ll forgive the pun). Other tricks are based around one single untruth that has to be disguised so it doesn’t stick out for the giant porky that it is. Both of these things lead to complex tricks but in different ways: sometimes we’ll spend hours devising methods to accomplish the nigh-on impossible, but in other cases the difficulty is in the idea, the motivation and scripting of the trick."

Magic faces a challenge at the festival. If a Fringe-goer sees a bad comedian they will invariably go and see another one. Sitting through a sloppy magic show, on the other hand, is enough to turn off audiences altogether. That said, magic has seen a resurgence in recent years. In 2000 there were just two shows at the Fringe while this year sees an extraordinary boost at forty-two separate performances.

Morgan and West put this down to TV appearances from the likes of Penn and Teller, Derren Brown and David Blaine with his brand of street magic.

"There's also an increased appetite for cabaret and variety shows as new audiences are exposed to live magic.

"TV is grand but things are even more impossible when done in front of your very eyes. More inventive acts are trying to break in and it’s brilliant that more and more magicians every year are putting on shows. 

"It also makes it more of a challenge, which is great, because you have to make sure your show is more miraculous than the last one your audience saw."

Clockwork Miracles: Gilded Balloon, Until 27 Aug, 4.30pm Lying, Cheating Scoundrels Gilded Balloon, Until 26 Aug (not 20, 21), at midnight Suitable for 16+ http://www.morganandwest.co.uk/