BWW Review: ADELAIDE FESTIVAL 2017: THE MAGIC CITY at Her Majesty's Theatre

BWW Review: ADELAIDE FESTIVAL 2017: THE MAGIC CITY at Her Majesty's TheatreReviewed by Christine Pyman, Sunday 12th March 2017

The American design and performance collective, Manual Cinema, take Edith Nesbit's classic 1910 children's story of magic and adventure, The Magic City, and turn it into a spectacle of magic and morals. As most American children's classics seem to be based on moral fables, as opposed to English stories centred around folklore, fantasy, and magic, this contemporary take on Nesbit's story could encourage children from their homeland to experience theatre and imaginative reading, but I suspect will ultimately disappoint most non-US literati and child viewers.

The performance itself is a cleverly and well-done mixture of puppetry, live filming, and overhead projectors, held together by'the narrator, Maren Celest, and two musicians, Ben Kaufman and Michael Hilger, all of whom were on stage. A modern split screen effect puts on show what is usually behind the scenes, with a large screen suspended over the top of the actors and puppeteers. Making the usually hidden visual tricks visible, concurrently with the filmic results, is a brilliant way of awakening interest in theatre, puppetry, and storytelling for the next generation. To make this even more accessible, the puppets and shadow play were achieved with very simplistic techniques, and show what is achievable with the passion of professional dedicated actors and musicians.

Sarah Fornace played the main character, Philomena, with huge energy and beautifully appropriate movements, while her sister, Helen, was realised by Julia Mills. Jeffrey Paschal and Lindsey Falls were the two interlopers to Philomena and Helen's cosy world, with the boy, Lucas (Paschal), trying to achieve acceptance by Philomena, through their adventures in the magic world they've created. In this story, Philomena has to learn that her own bad behaviour is the cause of unhappiness and, of course, she finally does.

As the actors were also the puppeteers and filmmakers of this performance, watching them was akin to watching a carefully choreographed event as they ducked and weaved across live lit projection screens to add shadow play, and moved GoPro cameras to give desired camera angles to puppets, props and actors. All sound effects, music, and narration came from the right-hand side of the stage, backed with original music of percussion and guitar. This is a fascinating way of storytelling, with very accomplished actors and sound designers coming together to create a polished performance.

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