This year magician/comedian Pete Firman is returning to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with TriX, celebrating a decade of spell-binding performances.
In honour of his tenth consecutive Edinburgh Fringe show, he'll be showcasing his most famous illusions and has a few new tricks up his sleeve. He was the star of BBC One's The Magicians and his charismatic delivery has made him one of the most in-demand magicians on British television.
Last year I watched him perform live for the first time in Edinburgh and I could not have loved the show more. Super Duper was a definite highlight from last year’s festival so as you can imagine, not only am I excited about seeing it, but I also got to speak to the man himself about the new show.
What came first? The show or the title?
Ah well, blowing my own trumpet it’s quite a clever title. It’s TriX, obviously as in magic tricks, but
the X sort of marks the decade of shows I’ve done in Edinburgh in roman numerals.
It’s an exciting one for me, because it’s my tenth year, ten on the trot as well, which is sort of surprising really. It feels like only yesterday that I was going up there for the first time.
What can you tell us about the show?
It’s very difficult to talk to people about a magic show, and I’ve spoken to my stand-up friends about this as well. A stand-up doesn’t want to tell you what the jokes are going to be, and a magician doesn’t really want to tell you what the tricks are going to be - because the element of surprise is quite important.
But because it’s a ten-year special, I’m sort of bringing back a couple of my favourites and audience favourites from the last ten years plus some new bits as well. I’m hugely excited about the whole thing.
So it’s very much a celebration year for you?
Yeah, but without wanting to be too self-indulgent. When we were putting all the publicity stuff together, obviously I wanted to make a point about it being ten years, and making a bit of a big deal about that.
You don’t want to be too self congratulatory, do you know what I mean? After all, it’s just another show to a lot of people. But yeah, for me it’s very special.
What has kept you coming back to the Fringe for ten years?
The best audience in the world. Without a doubt. There’s such a great buzz up there and such a loyal audience as well.
I’ve really noticed that if people have had a good time at your show, they’ll come back again, because the Fringe is sort of a regular trip for a lot of people. People go up as families, or every year at the same time with a group of friends and they go and see the people they like.
That’s hugely flattering if they’re coming back multiple times. I’ve very often spoken to guys after the show who have maybe seen three or four shows on the trot. If they’ve had a good time, they’ll come back, and that’s great.
The atmosphere up there is almost as if time goes out of the window at the Edinburgh Festival. You can see a show any time of the day and I’ve done stand-up gigs at like three in the morning! And they’ve not been lairy and people drunk, they’ve just been great.
It’s so fantastic, and wherever I go, I always encourage anyone that hasn’t been to the Edinburgh Festival to go. I’ve been doing previews up and down the country for the past couple of months and I introduce the show and say it’s a work in progress for the Edinburgh Festival, I ask who’s been, who’s not been? And anyone who’s not been I absolutely encourage them to go, because once you’ve been once, you’ll just keep going back. It’s fantastic.
It’s not just comedy either. There’s theatre and art and Edinburgh as a city is a fantastic backdrop for it as well. It’s such a great place to be.
How have the previews been going?
Really good! I’m always very overly cautious, so at the start of the year, and I’ve said it for the last ten years, I always put in tons of previews because I want the show to be really polished and when I arrive in Edinburgh, I want it to be ready.
I don’t want to be spending the first three or four shows tweaking stuff. I really want to hit the ground running, and it’s been going really well. I still really enjoy putting the shows together and testing stuff out, seeing what works and ringing the changes with material.
Having done magic professionally for quite a long time now, I’m still surprised by the process. When I write it, I think this is going to kill them. This is going to storm the place! And you can be absolutely wrong, and something that you perhaps don’t give as much thought to really flies.
It’s a great process, putting the show together.
How long has this show taken to put together?
Well it never really stops, because I’m always writing stuff down. I’ve got copious notebooks and stuff, so I’m always jotting stuff down.
I go back through the notebooks, and actually in the case of this show, one thing I pulled something out of a notebook from five or six years ago that I never realised, but just jotted down as an idea.
I guess in terms of properly getting the show on its feet and trying it out, that sort of starts September/October, straight after the previous Edinburgh.
What I’ll do is outside of the Fringe, I'll hammock a brand new bit of material in my act between two more established pieces and slowly but surely, before you know it you’ve got half an hour, 45 minutes and then you’ve got the whole hour that you can try out.
It never really ends. It’s a continuous circuit, but I like that.
Do you like having the pressure of having come up with a new show every year for Edinburgh?
Yeah. Initially it was pressure. When you do Edinburgh for the first time, what a lot of people do is they just pour in all of their stuff that they’ve gathered in getting their act together. So your first show isn’t too tough. If you’ve decided to go to Edinburgh, you’ve probably got that material.
But, after your first show, when you burn that stuff and decide that you had such a good time and you want to go again, that blank page is really daunting. You’re like crikey! That first one took me 5 years to put together, how am I going to do this in twelve months?!
But then you find that way of working and when you get into that mindset of just writing stuff down, whatever the idea is, however ridiculous or brief, just jot it down so that you can come back to it.
I get bored quite easily, so I like doing the new stuff. I like putting the old stuff to bed and cracking on with the new. But as I say, this one’s slightly different because I’ve really enjoyed re-visiting some things that I haven’t done in six or seven years! It’s been great.
Is it important for you to have a presence at the Fringe every year, and not take a year out to work on new material?
I wouldn’t say it’s important. I’ve got lots of friends who do exactly what you’ve just said. They might do a year on, a year off. I just really enjoy it and I think I got to about year seven and for myself, I thought, I’d like to do ten on the trot. I’d like to do a decade of shows.
I haven’t really decided whether I’m going to go or not next year. I’m half thinking that I might take a break from it. I’ve done ten years, maybe I should recharge, take stock and maybe come back in a couple of years time or something.
You don’t just do magic, you merge it with stand-up. Why did you decide to do that?
I suppose the magic came first as a hobby. I mean, it’s very kind of you to say it’s like stand-up, but I’m basically trying to make the show as funny as it is amazing. That’s always the goal.
I’m not like doing a trick, break, step aside for a bit and doing a routine about my girlfriend or about aeroplane food, or something like that. The comedy is tightly knit into whatever the magic routine is. I think magicians can sometimes fall foul of being a bit smart assy and magic by its very definition is a little bit like, here’s something impossible and you don’t know how to do it... hahaha!
So it can be a bit of a challenge to an audience, so I just think that adding the element of humour, which is something that performers in this country have kind of majored on, more than magicians anywhere else in the world I think.
If you think about people like Tommy Cooper who mixed magic and comedy so beautifully. I think it perhaps makes the magic a little bit more palatable to a British audience. We’re a bit cynical you know! (Laughs)
Magic appears to have had a real resurgence recently, especially on TV. Last year a magician came runner-up on Britain’s Got Talent, this year a magician won the show and there’s about to be a new show on ITV looking for The Next Great Magician. Is that a good thing?
I think it’s great. Magic’s always been a staple of television schedules and it just has these peak moments where there seems to be a lot of it around, but it never gets scrapped completely. It’s never not on, you just might have to wait a little while or it might not be in such a high profile format.
If it’s more in the public consciousness then I think it’s fantastic. A very close friend of mine has just opened a show called Impossible which is in the West End, Dynamo has just finished a tour touring arenas - it’s fantastic. I’m hitting the road after Edinburgh so magic on TV I think, helps all of us.
It’s popular as well, and I meet a lot of people after my shows and talk to people of all ages and the younger guys are really getting into magic as a hobby. They’ve all got packs of cards and they’re doing these fancy shuffles and all the rest of it... it’s almost like the new YoYo! (Laughs)
Will you be hoping to see much whilst you’re up there?
I try and see stuff. I try and see stuff that is maybe an international performer who’s not very often over here and also stuff that’s actually different from me. I probably wouldn’t see a magic show. I probably wouldn’t go and see a stand-up.
Doing previews, you’re often on a double-bill so a lot of the stand-ups that I like are on the bill with me, so I get to see a lot of them in the preview process. There are friends who I’ll always go and see and enjoy, but it’s more the things off the beaten track and the more unusual stuff that I like.
Outside of the Fringe, what are you up to? Any more TV?
Yeah, well I’m actually involved in that ITV show you mentioned earlier, The Next Great Magician. That’s great, I’m not sure when that’s going out actually. They’re trying to keep it all a little bit hush hush at the minute so I can’t say a great deal about it, but yeah I’ll be popping up on that.
And finally, how would you sum up the show in just five words?
Jokes, tricks, me on stage.