CHRISTMAS is, for many of us, the most magical time of the year. That’s particularly true in Edinburgh which, between December 17 and 31, plays host to Magicfest (or, to give it its full name, the Edinburgh International Magic Festival).

First staged in 2010, the festival is the brainchild of its co-directors, the husband and wife team of acclaimed magician Kevin Quantum (aka Kevin McMahon) and creative producer Svetlana McMahon.

With shows ranging from Magic School (in which budding young magicians aged seven to 10 are taught how to do magic by professional magician Gary James) to Hogmanay House (a piece that promises a captivating combination of magic, live music and storytelling), the Magicfest programme is impressively diverse.

Hogmanay House (which is written and directed by Quantum) seeks to share the “rich underbelly of Scottish traditions” that lies beneath the touristic image of Edinburgh. Indeed, as home to famous writers like Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle, Edinburgh is, surely, one of Europe’s great Gothic cities.

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With the Gothic comes mystery, and with mystery comes magic.

“I think Edinburgh is very magical,” says Quantum. “Whenever I’ve written performance pieces, I’ve been inspired by the city.”

The magician is pleased by the development of what he calls his Kevin Quantum “brand”, and by the positive impact his personal career has had on the festival.

“I’ve found that the more my brand’s developed, the more the Magic Festival has been successful,” he observes.

One of the most impressive aspects of Magicfest is the tremendous age range, not only of the audiences it caters for, but also of the magicians who perform on its stages.

“During the Fringe I was approached by so many adolescent and teenage magicians,” Quantum tells me.

“They’ve got nowhere to go. I felt really sorry for them. You have to be 18 to get into your local magic club.”

For a long time, Quantum explains, there’s been a real lack of guidance and tuition for magicians aged between 11 and 18. During the Fringe, he was quite moved to find that a family of three from the north England (a mum, a dad and their teenage son) were prepared to flyer for his show every day if he would agree to spend five to 10 minutes each day giving guidance to the magic-obsessed boy.

“This got me thinking, ‘there must be something I can do, in my position as a magic festival director’.”

The National: Magician and festival director Kevin Quantum doing magic tricks with a young magic studentMagician and festival director Kevin Quantum doing magic tricks with a young magic student

When it comes to teaching magic to young people, the 11 to 18 age group is a far trickier proposition than younger children, says the director.

“Among seven to 10s, everyone’s just about at the same kind of level,” Quantum says. “You can have one teacher and 25 kids. But when you hit 11 to 18, you get lots of different interests, different kinds of magic: illusions, close-up magic, card magic, mind reading.”

And that’s to say nothing of the vastly different levels of ability that magic teachers encounter among 11s to 18s. “You can get someone who’s 12 and has been doing magic for eight years. Others are quick learners, but they’ve maybe only been doing it for six months.”

Nevertheless, impressed by the enthusiasm of the young people he met at this year’s Fringe, Quantum decided to develop a new programme for adolescent and teenage magicians. The result is a show titled Future Magicians in which five young people (four male, one female), who have been mentored by professionals over the course of eight weeks, will present their own short sets at the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

Quantum is, he says, “quite proud” of the project. As it stands, this magic education programme is unfunded. All of the professional mentors, Quantum included, have given their time for free.

The most cursory of glances at the Magicfest programme – or, indeed, a consideration of the fact that the Future Magicians show has a male to female performer ratio of four to one – suggests that the world of professional magic continues to be stubbornly male dominated. That is the case, the director agrees, with palpable frustration.

“I used to be a physicist,” he recalls, “and I used to attend a lot of physics and science conventions. I thought they were male dominated until I went to my first magic convention.”

The festival director admits to being unsure as to why the magic industry is so male dominated.

“I could take guesses,” he says, “but I don’t think it’s that useful.

“All I can do is try to develop a generation where women have opportunities. That’s what I try to do with the Magic School, that’s what I’m doing with the young magicians.”

Quantum is particularly excited to have in this year’s programme Hector Mancha from Madrid. The Spanish magician is a specialist in the branch of magic known as manipulation, in which an object is manipulated in such a way that it seems to disappear and reappear.

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In 2015, Mancha was crowned World Champion of Stage Magic at the “Magic Olympics” (held tri-annually by the International Federation of Magic Societies). An extremely skilled magician across disciplines, Mancha is also a master in the art of pickpocketing (which is much more fun in a theatre environment in which the thief quickly returns the stolen goods). Quantum (who was trained by the famous American magicians Penn and Teller) does pickpocketing in his own shows. “I can steal a gentleman’s necktie without him noticing”, he says.

“If you’re a spectator, it’s very amusing and highly skilled. You just cannot believe that this person doesn’t notice that I’m taking their tie off.

“Sometimes I put it on myself, and they don’t notice that I’m wearing their tie. It’s so much fun, and, I have to say, exhilarating for me as a performer.”

From Quantum’s own Christmas Special (with special guests) to the mysteries of Lewis Barlow’s show The Way of the Magician, exhilaration promises to be in ample supply at Magicfest.

Magicfest runs in Edinburgh, December 17-31: