On the weekend, Saturday June 3, 2023, I saw the College of Magic’s Impossible! at Artscape in Cape Town. The COM’s annual family magic show has become a hit with families. The four performances of Impossible! were packed to capacity [June 3-4]. Impossible! is high energy, staged with striking lighting, sophisticated props and quirky costumes. For instance, I was tickled by Anja Steyn’s zany magic fairy costume with mad slippers- fabulously whacky. There are fun split-colour wigs (black and white). In addition to magic, the young performers also dance and jive. The grand finale – a Houdini escape from a straightjacket – drew gasps as the audiences chanted the countdown for the escape. Liyema Peters (16) freed herself from a straitjacket while hanging upside down. The escapes elicited squeals of delight and appreciation as Liyema emerged, back on stage. Impossible is an extraordinary showcase of the talent in Cape Town.

In a recent interview, Chad Findlay Creative Director, Chad Findlay of the COM and director of Impossible! mused that the escape is not an illusion. It takes a daredevil like Liyema – with nerves of steel, timing and skill – to make it happen. The COM was inspired to present an escape, riffing off a gem of South African magic history – which was something of an illusion- or should we say delusion. In 1912, there was a dude who toured South Africa and who postured as Houdini. The great Houdini did not tour SA or Africa. When he heard about the imposter, Houdini sued and as the great showman he was, he took out adverts in Variety in the USA, revealing the deception. A signed photo of Houdini and a book was donated to the COM and in homage to Houdini – as escapologist and his stature in the magic world- the COM decided to include an epic escape in its annual family show. It is ambitious to do this in a show, performed by young magicians but they pulled it off with aplomb. I look forward to seeing more escapes by the COM (ahh, we would like to escape, yes) and to seeing the spirited Liyama on stage again.

It was exciting to see the number of female magicians in Impossible! Sadly, professional stage magic tends to be dominated by male magicians and their female sidekicks. Think of the  classic ‘sawing illusion’. It is usually the magician’s female assistant/sidekick who is ‘sawed’ in half. In the COM’s 2022 show, The Magic Key, we saw this inverted with Anja Steyn who sawed Sisonke Mkwela in half. In Impossible! we see an all-female troupe doing it all – for themselves- assisting, splicing and re-assembling. I loves that and I loved the sheer glee and delight on their faces, creating magic and their awareness of the history of this illusion. The COM is breaking through gender constructs in its work. Love it.

Impossible! is packed with exciting sets – including juggling, close-up and sleight of hand magic (cards), levitating, vanishing and appearing. I loved the shadow puppetry set – the magic of shadows morphing into fabulous characters. Anja Steyn who has won magic awards internationally was once again a delight, working the crowd, by throwing a ball into the auditorium. When the music stopped, whoever had the ball went onto stage. In addition to being a talented magician, Anja is showperson who is cued into the audience.

It was thrilling to see full-houses after restrictions of lockdown restrictions, during the pandemic. The pandemic did not stop the COM. It continued to present shows online and when lockdown regulations allowed, it went back into the theatre, albeit with limits on audience numbers and masking requirements. It was during one of its online shows, that Richard Wiseman “reached out” to the COM. He is a Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK and is a magician and leading light in magic. He was involved in conceptualising Impossible. His recently published a magic book, Everybody’s Magic was on sale at on the weekend at Impossible! as a fundraiser for the COM.

I feel that Impossible! is a tad too long but I understand that the COM wants to feature the amazing talent of its learners. A huge round of applause to The College of Magic in staging this epic theatrical magic show- with the rousing Houdini escape- with all the bells and whistles of a professional magic show in terms of production values – lighting, design, sound.  Impossible! is as spectacular escape from reality. I hope that that the COM stages this ambitious show again as there were many disappointed people who could not get tickets.

Shadow puppets. Beautifully staged shadow puppet act in Impossible! staged by the College of Magic, Cape Town, June 3-4, 2023 at Artscape. Screenshot of a video by TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen.

✳ Image credits: © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen, Impossible! staged by the College of Magic, Cape Town, June 3-4, 2023 at Artscape.

Related coverage on TheCapeRobyn: https://thecaperobyn.co.za/interview-houdini-escape-featured-in-impossible-epic-scale-family-magic-show-by-the-college-of-magic-cape-town-june-2023/