Theatre Review: Stuart Lightbody's Unique Wonders

By: Mandy J Watson
Posted: 8 August 2017
Category: Review Comments View Comments


In his new show magician Stuart Lightbody has chosen to challenge himself by allowing audience members to make decisions that affect what happens each night and what magical effects will be performed. The result is a three week run during which no two performances are the same.

Theatre Review: Stuart Lightbody's Unique Wonders

Award-winning magician Stuart Lightbody has brought a new show, titled Unique Wonders, to Alexander Upstairs, the small theatre belonging to The Alexander Bar in Cape Town. It's a very personal show that's a window into his influences and career with nods to legendary magicians that have inspired and informed his work, as well as anecdotes from his international adventures and personal-growth experiences, that are woven around magical effects.

I attended the show on the same night as the monthly First Thursdays event in Cape Town so parking, unusually to the area, was a nightmare, as was the constant vague threat of being accosted or extorted by "car guards" every few metres, so I arrived at The Alexander Bar feeling quite tense and frazzled. It seems I was not the only one as the audience was slow to warm up as the performance began but - a testament to Lightbody's experience and skill - within 10 minutes everyone had began to relax as he noted the odd atmosphere and worked swiftly to transform the environment into a safe and comfortable space.

Theatre Review: Stuart Lightbody's Unique Wonders

People also tend to be particularly uncomfortable around magicians, especially in a small venue such as Alexander Upstairs, due to a fear of being hauled up on stage and humiliated, which is a problem Lightbody anticipates and works hard to counteract. In this case he did this via a form of exposure therapy by creating a show in which it's almost impossible not to be included in some manner, whether it's just to make a choice that alters the direction of the rest of the show or to assist on stage with a card effect. No matter what your involvement, you are in safe hands, however.

Unique Wonders is less intense than some of Lightbody's earlier shows. By the end of the evening we were all laughing loudly, when not utterly mesmerised by seemingly impossible feats, at the jokes, some of which were scripted and some of which I suspect were on the fly. Lightbody is known for his amiable manner but is less known for his sense of humour so it was fascinating to see his growth as a performer. This is a by product of practise: he has spent 20 years honing his craft and knows his methods so well that he is mentally free to relax; Unique Wonders is the most comfortable I've ever seen him.

Theatre Review: Stuart Lightbody's Unique Wonders

This also leads to what is one of the most interesting components of this show: no two performances are the same. At various points throughout the evening audience members are invited to provide feedback as to what happens next. They make choices, one based on photographs decorating the set, another on a collection of personal objects Lightbody has assembled from all over the world that represent special moments in his life and career. Each photograph, each object, has a story and a magical effect associated with it. The audience members' choices then dictate what he will perform, and, in some cases, the order in which events happen as he then adjusts his routines to make them flow better for that particular performance.

He is essentially challenging himself every evening by creating a level of uncertainty, which is the exact opposite of what magicians want in their shows because uncertainty is already an intrinsic byproduct of any magical effect - attempting to master that uncertainty, and the audience reaction to the effect, are the two components that create the performing high that propels many magicians. This time Lightbody's magic is improvisational jazz, with the audience providing the bass line and Lightbody riffing against it but, although a genius component of the show, this is likely only to be appreciated by Lightbody, himself, and any magicians in the audience - unless an audience member opts to see the show more than once.

The performance variations are, therefore, a great argument for returning, as is what happens after the show. I won't give it away but those interested are invited to partake in a mental challenge that will leave you ruminating for days and possibly feeling compelled to return to The Alexander Bar to look for more clues to the answer.

Theatre Review: Stuart Lightbody's Unique Wonders
Above: Some of the personal objects that are incorporated into the shows, based on audience choice.
Lightbody's gift has always been to leave audiences with a sense of delight and wonder but this year he has outdone himself by leaving audiences intrigued - and hopefully curious enough to opt for another performance.

Mandy J Watson was a media guest of Stuart Lightbody and The Alexander Bar.

Unique Wonders, featuring Stuart Lightbody and directed by Tara Notcutt, is running at Alexander Upstairs at The Alexander Bar, 76 Strand Street, Cape Town, every Monday to Saturday until 19 August 2017. Tickets are R140 at the door or R120 online.

Alexander Bar: Official Site, Facebook, Twitter

Tags: #arts_and_culture, #cape_town, #magic

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