Using a mixture of shadow puppets, real life human silhouettes and paper animations, Chicago production company Manual Cinema, creates literal magic before your eyes. Based on the novel by Edith Nesbit, Magic City is a creative, vibrant adventure for all ages.

Piles of books, rubbish and other mysterious items clutter the stage as the performers tell the story of nine-year-old orphan Philomena, played by performer and artistic director Sarah Fornace, who struggles to deal with the news that her older sister and guardian is getting married to Brandon. Unfortunately for Philomena, he also has a young son called Lucas who is, “the most annoying boy in the world”.

Magic_City_Adelaide_Festival_Large_2Using imagination and some exceptional building skills, Philomena creates different worlds to escape reality, with one very special island called “Phil-helen-ia”, which only her and Helen can visit. She must choose whether to keep this island between her and Helen or break down the imaginary and literal walls, let Lucas in and ultimately let him into her life.

The puppetry mixed with the silhouettes is simply breathtaking and flawlessly executed. Nothing is hidden from the audience, so every costume change and every prop and paper animation change is visible. Even when the performers transition from scene to scene, you see them “bop” to the ground or out of the way of the projector. You will find yourself not only watching the “magic” on the overhead screen, but the magic that is swiftly created on the stage by the performers.

The soothing narration of Maren Celest and cheerful music that accompanies it will remind you of when you were lulled to sleep as a child by a loved one reading you a bedtime story. These elements teamed with occasional jokes that only adults would get, makes this production one for the whole family.

Magic City, which concludes its Adelaide run today, is one of two Manual Cinema shows being performed at this year’s Festival, with their second show, Lula Del Ray, running from the 14th to 16th March.

Reviewed by Cat Kusmuk-Dodd