Review: The College of Magic’s The Magic Key, transporting family magic to an enchanted sphere – with a dazzling spin on classic illusions and tricks

The College of Magic in Cape Town, recently staged, The Magic Key at Artscape [June 1-4, 2022]. It was billed as its largest production, in twelve years and the season sold out – deservedly so. It was a short season and there were many disappointed fans who could not secure seats because of lockdown seating regulations. Hopefully, the COM will be able to stage this superb show again. It features current students at the COM [ranging from 10-18 years] and three graduate guest performers: Olwethu Dyantyi, Anela Gazi and Sinethemba Bawuti. The guest performers teach at the COM.

In the past, I have enjoyed the COM family magic shows at Artscape, but have found them thin in terms of concept and staging. The family magic shows are an opportunity to showcase what the young students have mastered and their prodigious skills. The Magic Key is a game changer. Bundled with the talent of the students is a highly considered theatrical magic show, with vibrant characters and quirky narrative through-lines. This combined with magical lighting (Faheem Bardien), costumes and choreography (Sbonakaliso Ndaba), elevates The Magic Key into an enchanting sphere.

Chad Findlay, the artistic director of the COM directed and he has delivered a delight of a show- combining the professionalism of the guests with the youthful verve of the students. There is a wry take on classic tricks like the ‘sawing illusion’ where traditionally the magician’s female aslant/sidekick is ‘sawed’ in half. In the Magic Key, in Compressed, we see Anja Steyn ‘compressing’ Sisonke Mkwela, concertina-like style. It is a dazzling squash and a squeeze. This duo also cream it it in Think a Drink – in which we see Steyn producing an endless supply of beverages from a cardboard container. Mkwela is her assistant, Ronald. His brilliant clowning is part of the success of this routine and feeds into our incredulity as audience as we gasp at the endless stream of drinks. Findlay says that this act is an update of a “routine that magicians have been performing since 1800s: Any Drink Called For …” Findlay” says that Anja Steyn is heading soon “to the International Brotherhood of Magicians youth contest in Atlanta to perform the act.” It is extraordinary- illusion, trickery, combined with humour, clowning, astute timing and tremendous stage presence by Steyn (14) and Mkwela (15). These are two stars to look out for. They have the magic smarts and can act. Terrific.

The enigmatic guest performers charmed the audience, eliciting whoops of participation. I was impressed by the close-up magic with projection from behind so we could see what was going on. We could see the cards and coins in the Visual Coin Matrix “where coins jump around visibly”. In a large venue like Artscape, it is essential to have back projection or a mirror enlargement system, to project close-up magic to the audience. In terms of the title of the show, The Magic Key, the character, Ntombi finding a magic key could do with some fleshing out in future productions. The Magic Key is an impressive show – with innovative spins and twists on much loved tricks and illusions. Encore to The Magic Key. This show is too good to be a one-off quickie season. It has the legs to travel to festivals abroad and in South Africa and another season at Artscape, would be cool. This is an exceptional show. It is difficult to fathom that these are school kids on stage.

Magic lighting. Faheem Bardien’s striking lighting plot, for The College of Magic [Cape Town], The Magic Key, Artscape [June 1-4, 2022]. Pic: © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen.
The Magic Key  

Presented by the College of Magic, Cape Town  

Featuring: College of Magic students and special guest performers Sinethemba Bawuti, Olwethu Dyantyi and Anela Gazi   Direction and stage design: Chad Findlay 
Costume design: Beaura Jacobs
Juggling direction: Sinethemba Bawuti
Dance choreography: Sbonakaliso Ndaba
Magic direction: Sinethemba Bawuti, Jesse Brooks, Olwethu Dyantyi, David Gore, Stuart
Lightbody: Steve Sandomierski, Piet Steyn and Marian Williamson
Lighting design: Faheem Bardien
Projection design: Hugo Meyer
Additional music: Steven Kukard        

✳ Featured image – The Magic Key – cast. Supplied.