Arts diary: Magicians enjoy a spell together while sharing secrets of the prestidigital age

"HOW'S Tricks?" asked Scottish magician Paul Nardini, greeting a group of fellow tricksters assembled on Tuesday night for the launch of the first Edinburgh International Magic Festival.

It runs throughout this week, and concludes with a gala grand finale at the Royal Lyceum Theatre on Sunday.

The comedy magician John Archer kicked off the proceedings at the Scottish Book Trust on the Royal Mile by swallowing a sausage balloon, while "human lie detector" Drew McAdam patrolled the crowd, bending spoons and minds by predicting with impossible accuracy the numbers you were thinking of. McAdam learned his formidable skills interrogating people for British Military Intelligence, he disclosed, and has been described by Uri Geller as "the next Uri Geller".

Festival director Kevin MacMahon is described on its website as the "founder and creative spine" while friend and co-founder Svetlana Shevchenko is the "engine and strategist". "We are trying to promote excellence in the art of magic in Scotland," he declared.

Svetlana, from Russia, came here to study on the MSC course in International Events and Festival Management at Napier University, and the festival's 20 volunteers include many with Napier ties. She takes the role of "beautiful assistant" who can do only a few simple card tricks, but dreams of performing in a quick change dance act. She strongly believes magicians should get the chance to shine on stage, not merely entertain at weddings and corporate events.

This is the first magic festival in the UK and it is being run on a shoestring with backers including and venues ranging from the Scottish Storytelling Centre to The Lot. The international element is provided by two French comedians in a line-up that is otherwise from the UK, but Svetlana hopes to recruit from Russia and several other countries for next year. "We are quite ambitious. We hope in five years time we will be an event known worldwide," she said. "We are going to Russia in August to have a look around."

With a string of the festival's other performers in attendance - including Matthew Dowden, who has performed for Prince Harry, and Scottish thought reader Colin McLeod - the room was full of the slick charcoal and grey suits and brilliantly shone shoes that are the magicians' unofficial uniform.

Magical gatherings, it is said, are usually more like professional conferences where magicians perform their tricks mostly for each other. The free-ranging festival setting for the public is something new.

Post haste

WILL Armstrong is not a magician, but a marketing student, and a future Fringe entertainer - though he may be wishing for some Houdini-like skills.

He has announced his plans to post himself from Brighton to Edinburgh this August, a journey of 376 miles, with a can of Slimfast, one or two pocket peebags and a flip-cam to record it.

Alright, he's not really being posted. The Royal Mail have declared him too heavy, he says, so he's actually being couriered, carried in a cardboard coffin in a van. His partner in the show, Post me to the Fringe, which explores how performers and public get to Edinburgh, is Matt Bonner, who will travel by public bus, performing a few gigs on the way.

Armstrong has played Hamlet in a local youth theatre in Teddington, Middlesex, which is - promisingly - also where Noel Coward came from. But he will also be appearing in the first Edinburgh International Marketing Festival, run by the Marketing Society - like the magic festival, another first in Edinburgh this year.

You're welcome, sir

Marketing, clearly, is also on the mind of Jonathan Mills, director of the Edinburgh International Festival. In an interview with The Stage magazine, Mills blamed media "laziness" for the public being confused about the difference between his festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

The media doesn't articulate the difference between the festivals as clearly as it should, Mills complained.

"In many other countries, anything as varied and as popular in every part of it, let alone its collective part, would be a cause for national jubilation," he said.

The press "don't speak clearly and passionately and articulately enough about the different parts of Edinburgh's festivals," he added, claiming that the media in general is "very lazy" in how it speaks about the festivals. "I don't measure myself exclusively in a relationship to one festival," he opined. "I measure myself or I think about how I exist in this city in relationship to a much broader range of festivals."

Sweeney nod

Tickets for a second Fringe screening of the documentary film Sweeney - The Life and Work of Jim Sweeney are on sale. Sweeney has promised that all proceeds from ticket sales for the film, about his time as a legendary improv entertainer who starred in dozens of successful Fringe shows and TV productions in the 1980s and 1990s, will go to the Multiple Sclerosis Resource Centre. Sweeney - The Life and Work of Jim Sweeney is at the Gilded Balloon and features interviews with the likes of Eddie Izzard, Josie Lawrence, Paul Merton, Greg Proops, Andy Smart, Steve Steen and Stephen Frost, many of whom have performed at the venue over the last 25 years. z