Review: Manual Cinema: The Magic City

If Wes Anderson made a live children’s show using shadow puppets and overhead projectors, it might look a little like the whimsical The Magic City.

Created by the Chicago collective Manual Cinema, The Magic City is one of two shows the live cinema makers have brought to this year’s Adelaide Festival. The Magic City is their children’s skewed show while Lula Del Ray is aimed at older audiences. Though ostensibly a show for kids, or those who are young at heart, there is plenty for adults to enjoy in this unique and quite fantastic 70-minute adventure.

When you enter, the first thing you notice is the amount of equipment on stage. There are three overhead projectors, as well as cameras, laptops, screens and musical instruments but they are all dwarfed by a huge overhead screen.  Then, a bunch of cool 20- and 30-somethings hit the stage and the tale of Philomena (perfectly played by Sarah Fornace) begins.

Based on the 1910 story by Eidth Nesbit (who wrote The Railway Children), The Magic City has been updated with contemporary pop culture jokes and references. The narrator Maren Celest sits to the side of stage and begins the tale of Philomena, a plucky orphan, who is enjoying life with her step-sister Helen (Julia Miller). They eat breakfast meals for dinner and enjoy Patrick Swayze movies. Together, they create their own little fantasy worlds, such as Phil-Helen-ia. But Philomena’s world is about to change, as Helen is to marry Brandon (Linsey Falls) and if that’s not bad enough he has an annoyingly happy-go-lucky son Lucas (Jeffrey Paschal) and a strange cat that will increase Philomena’s family of two to five.

The beginning of this story is all filmed live. The actors rush behind and away from the camera as the show is presented on the overhead screen in real time along with animation elements. It is a wondrous mix of antiquated techniques with modern technology that is driven by the narration and live music, which can only be described as youthful indie rock.

It is when Philomena and Lucas enter Philomena’s fantasy world that the going gets really fantastic. Using the shadows of common objects and the actors to create the city and the characters via overlapping overhead projectors, this is a wonderfully-crafted make-believe world.

With its beautiful use of old and new technology with handmade elements, The Magic City also features an overall heartfelt message about understanding and appreciating those who are different. Wonderful messages for kids but timely life lessons for adults to remember, too.

Manual Cinema: The Magic City was performed on March 11, 12 & 13 2017 at Her Majesty’s Theatre

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