Theatre Review: Unique Wonders With Stuart Lightbody (2019)


Magician Stuart Lightbody has brought his 2017 hit show Unique Wonders back to the stage for a 2019 run that should not be missed. The show is curious in that, through making choices, audience members get to decide on what happens next, which means that every performance is different.

By: Mandy J Watson
Posted: 7 March 2019
Category: Reviews
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Stuart Lightbody at Alexander Upstairs in Cape Town on 4 March 2019

Unique Wonders With Stuart Lightbody is a tweaking of magician and sleight-of-hand artist Stuart Lightbody's 2017 show Unique Wonders. I say that because in 2017 the show was nearly perfect - it seems impossible that anything could be improved - and yet it has, though in nearly imperceptible ways. He's even better at interacting with the audience, the show feels tighter, although I cannot say exactly how, and the magic... well, the magic is unbelievable.

This is Lightbody's most personal show as it invites audience members, at about six points during the course of its 75 minute run, to make choices based on objects that are in the room, all of which have special meaning to him and represent moments in his life, from his years of training to perfect his magic skills to the wondrous places around the world his abilities have taken him. Those choices - picking one out of a stack of books, selecting an object from a group on a table, choosing a tea cup - determine what pieces of magic he will perform so (statistically) no two shows are alike.

Each object is linked to a piece of magic but the audience members don't know what that magic is so the challenge and the delight becomes more of an experience for Lightbody than it does the audience members (unless they choose to attend on more than one night to see some of the differences).

Stuart Lightbody performs with the helps of audience volunteers at Alexander Upstairs in Cape Town on 4 March 2019

Although it is always a free choice people tend to be predictable so certain objects do end up being chosen more frequently than others. Therefore, should you be granted the ability to make one of these decisions I would suggest pushing back a little and going for something less obvious. In return you might get a preview of something that, if you're a Lightbody fan and have seen most of his shows, you may never have seen before as there are both well established effects and some newer experiments in the mix. Lightbody knows where they are hidden, however; we do not.

His enjoyment of this controlled chaos is infectious. He is at his most relaxed when performing this show and the joy soon spreads to the audience members. I attended on opening night and halfway through the evening, long before the finale, people were already exclaiming in disbelief from across the room at his unfathomable skills with coins, mentalism effects, and his speciality, a deck of cards.

Magicians are often warned against performing too many card effects because it is said that audiences don't really like them and don't find them memorable. That may be true but Lightbody is the outlier. Cards are very familiar to most people and a universal visual language for when he travels. He uses them to create impossible moments by subverting everything that we all know to be true about them and about science and physics. His ability to manipulate a deck is astounding and, unlike some magicians, he understands what he should be creating for the audience - it's not a memory of what happened to those cards, it's a feeling of surprise and wonder created in witnessing the moment.

He often speaks about wonder and it's a thread that runs through all his work. Wonder has been eroded from our adult lives but he is - and other magicians are - in a unique position to be able to bring some of that back to us. He has done this by honing his craft so well and being so many steps ahead of you that you have to let go of thinking of the mechanics in favour of just enjoying the moment. It's a privilege for him to be able to do this for us and it's a privilege for us to experience it.

A selection of objects from Unique Wonders with Stuart Lightbody at Alexander Upstairs in Cape Town on 4 March 2019

This is my favourite of Lightbody's shows because the mix is just perfect: the impossibility of the feats of magic; gorgeous set design that most people won't have a chance to see up close (needing to take photographs for this review gave me special access and I could have lingered much longer); the promise of the variability in the show, even though most of us will never actually get to see it; the perfected pace of the grouping of effects that builds and releases, then builds and releases so as not to be too overwhelming; his joviality and relaxed demeanour that makes the show such fun... and then there's what comes after.

As with the run two years ago, there is an additional challenge for audience members who wish to go a little further, and it starts with a key that everyone receives upon entering the theatre. Most will just hold on to it as a keepsake but for those who are more curious clues abound as to the whereabouts of the lock for that key. The process, which you can continue once the show is over by looking for answers around Alexander Bar in Cape Town where Unique Wonders With Stuart Lightbody is being hosted, requires technology both old and new, as well as patience. The answers, while easy to come by, still aren't handed to you. You have to do a little bit of work.

Last time I was so focussed on having to write a review that I didn't seek out the clues - I just noted some of them and then went on my way but never followed up. This year I've decided to participate. I have an idea of what's coming based on bits of what I heard happened in 2017, and I fear that the moment when I will get a chance to seek out the lock is going to clash with a work related event I have to attend, but nothing is certain and I will do my best.

Stuart Lightbody at Alexander Upstairs in Cape Town on 4 March 2019

This time I really want to experience the full show, which didn't end after 75 minutes in a theatre. Those 75 minutes were instead the beginning of a mystery that's required intermittent detective work (though I admit I would have liked a little more), and created moments of intrigue, throughout the week. My hope is that when my key finally finds the correct lock it's a fulfilling bonus moment of wonder from a master manipulator.

Unique Wonders With Stuart Lightbody: Alexander Bar/Show Information, Facebook Event Page, brainwavez.org 2017 Review
Stuart Lightbody: Official Site, Facebook, Facebook (Personal), Twitter
Alexander Bar: Official Site, Facebook, Twitter


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

Unique Wonders With Stuart Lightbody, featuring Stuart Lightbody, with graphic art and set design by Sharleen Hollick and directed by Tara Notcutt, is running at Alexander Upstairs at Alexander Bar, 76 Strand Street, Cape Town, every Monday to Saturday from 4 March 2019 to 23 March 2019. Tickets are R160 at the door or R140 online.


Tags: Arts And Culture, Magic


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