#2 Irina Titova: Queen of Sand

Variety ( Performance Art, Solo Show ) Auditorium, Guilded Balloon at the Museum

It's a sure sign of a professional, when they make it look easy. And Irina Titova sure makes her sand art crafting look easy.

With just a flick of a wrist, a finger gesture, or a handful of fine sand seemingly carelessly thrown about her light box, Titova tells the familiar adventure story of Around the World in 80 Days — or in 80 pictures, as she puts it.

Characters, silhouettes of famous building, the range of Fogg's vehicles: all skilfully rendered, with a few contemporary references thrown in for good measure. Titova's Verne is winningly abridged, if slightly rushed in pace to fit in the hour. The show plays it quite safe, without much of an edge, except for some surprising emphasis in Passepartout the womaniser. Indeed, there's a rare pleasure of expectation in the spirit of "I wonder how she will portray X."

Titova lets her art do the talking on her behalf. The story is amusingly narrated from recording by a Scottish voice, comedian Fred MacAuley. While this localisation works great, it betrays some of the magic with its calculation. Musically, the show is pop culture and all time crowd pleaser scores from Titanic to Pomp and Circumstance. Titova knows her audience, which is everyone awake and about at noon on a rainy Fringe Monday.

Elegantly dressed Titova performs with a big heart and a disarming smile on her face. She seems genuinely happy to share her universal art. At the same time there's a distinct street art feel about the show. Her knowing looks and pausing poses imply repetition and careful preparation.

Titova is in perfect control of the show, which is astounding to realise, when considering the speed at which she creates her frames, and the detail work she seems to steal time and material for out of thin air. She is so good at her craft, one almost forgets how insanely subtle it is.

Highlights of the show are the transitions from scene to scene, where a detail from the previous portrait can become an arch of a structure in the next frame. From Big Ben to Fogg's hat in three strikes or less is satisfying to watch. Indeed much of the intrigue is seeing pictures resolve.

Some of Titova's renderings seem to miss their target, but the clear majority are successful, even inspired action shots, with beautiful sand textures and unique chiaroscuro patterns that could be a challenge to implement in other media.

What you see is what you get. The narrative and format is family friendly and Titova's craft utterly charming. A feel-good show if there ever was one.