FEATURE – Edinburgh International Magic Festival seance at Mary King’s Close

It’s a kind of magic


Edinburgh International Magic Festival

The last time we visited Edinburgh’s fascinating Mary King’s Close, we were in the company of paranormal investigators and psychic mediums. Last night, we were accompanied by mind readers and magicians, as part of the launch of the Edinburgh International Magic Festival.

So, were the magicians able to conjure up the spirits of the Close’s long-dead inhabitants; or did they have other tricks up their sleeves?

The event began with a short tour of the underground attraction, in the capable hands of 17th century sisters Agnes and Senga. The costumed tour guides focused on the spookier aspects of the long-forgotten warren of streets and rooms, telling us tales of hauntings, ghostly sightings and eerie events which have happened in the location since it opened as a visitor attraction in 2003.

We peered into the home of cantankerous Andrew Chesney, the last resident of the Close – who some say never really left. We listened in horror to the stories of the Close’s plague victims and the terrible afflictions which befell them. And we stood in silence as we heard the sad tale of Little Annie, the child who was left behind and whose ghost is still said to wander the dark passages and chambers.

Then, it was on to the main attraction. Two of the stars of the forthcoming Magic Festival – Colin McLeod and Drew McAdam – were to recreate a Victorian seance in one of Mary King’s Close’s darkest and most eerie rooms.

Spelling it out…


Colin McLeod

As we crowded around a table laid out with lettered cards and a single wine glass. Colin, dressed as a Victorian parlour magician, welcomed us – and the magic began.

The acclaimed 23 year-old performer first demonstrated his ability to slow – and then completely stop – his own pulse, before turning to the spirit world to see if they had any messages they wished to tell us. Volunteers were asked to step forward and place their fingers lightly on the upturned glass which – after a little while – began to move as if of its own accord.

As the glass slid across the table with an eerie squealing noise, it stopped on certain letters: first spelling out the name of a person another volunteer had previously written down in secret; then revealing a message for all of us. As Colin turned over the cards chosen by the seemingly-possessed glass, the phrase “I WATCH YOU” was revealed…

Is there anybody there?


Drew McAdam

The mood was therefore perfectly set for the second half of the peformance – a meticulous recreation of a Victorian seance.

Drew McAdam, Scottish mindreader, psychologist and ‘The Interrogator’ from Channel 5’s Trisha Goddard show, asked for a pair of volunteers to bind him and sit him in front of a table in the centre of the room. As the lights were turned out, a candle on the table dimly illuminated a bell and wicker ball placed next to it.

We joined hands and formed a circle around Drew. He then blew out the candle: all we could then see were the glowing shapes of the other two luminous objects.

“Is there anyone who wishes to communicate with us?” asked Drew. We could hear each other’s breathing and some shuffling of feet, but nothing else out the ordinary.

Then, strange things began to happen. People felt cold wafts of air; sensed names popping into their heads; and thought they could see green mists appear near the entrance to the room. All the while, the objects on the table sat still, their glow beginning to play tricks on our eyes. Suddenly, a loud bang as something dropped and rolled across the stone floor. We laughed, nervously.

“Did anyone drop something?” asked Drew.

No-one answered.

He continued to ask the spirits to make themselves known. To incredulous gasps, the ball in front of the bound magician began to slowly move and rotate. The bell shuddered. More unexplained noises. Was that a voice from the empty corrdor outside?

Then with a loud clatter, the bell flew off the table. Colin asked Drew if he wished to continue. There was no reply. As Colin turned the lights back on, we saw Drew slumped back in his chair, still tied and seemingly unconscious.

As Colin attended to his fellow magician, we were – with some relief – led back upstairs…

A magical week

So, what really happened? Was some form of hypnosis and suggestion used to make us believe we heard, saw and felt things that weren’t really there? Was trickery employed to manipulate things without us knowing it? Or was it something more…?

One thing’s for certain: both Colin and Drew are excellent performers and their routines were slick and skillful.

They’ll be joined next week by a whole host of world-class magicians, illusionists and mindreaders in Edinburgh’s first ever Magic Festival.

Founder and Edinburgh-based magician Kevin McMahon has put together a spellbinding programme of shows and events, which he explained was filled with performances from some of the finest magicians working today.

Running from 7-11 July, the Magic Festival includes a gala performance at the Royal Lyceum Theatre on 9 July, as well as competitions, a magic school for kids and a special collaboration with the Filmhouse featuring a season of magic-themed movies.

So, why not experience a little bit of magic yourself next week when the Magic Festival opens its box of tricks in Edinburgh for the first time?

The full programme of shows and events is listed on the Magic Festival website.
Further details on Mary King’s Close are available here.

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