Review by James Mukheibir
Illusions and stage magic are incredible art. To take an audience on a journey beyond their own skepticism and inherent critical thought requires performance skills that very few possess and even fewer master. A great stage magician can transport onlookers to a liminal space, where the rules of reality bend to their will and create endless possibilities. A well-performed magic show, with a charismatic and funny host, can be the height of entertainment.
Mystique was unfortunately not this. While the audience may have felt transported, the destination was a travelling carnival stage in 2006.
Michael Boyd and his motley crew of performers and helpers put on a garish, repetitive, and confusingly offensive show with little to no genuine skill involved. The illusions were simply showcases of well-known stage magic contraptions that even the uninitiated would be well aware of. Boyd’s performance was overcooked, with crowd interactions serving merely as opportunities to showcase his Michael Boyd branded products, thinly disguised as a fun chance for a child to come up on stage. The terrified eyes of the unfortunate “volunteers” spoke volumes.
It was clear that the show was directed toward an audience demographic with pre-adolescent frontal cortex development. The illusions were punctuated by jokes, blasting music, and dance numbers, creating a sensory experience akin to getting woken up by a fire alarm, and the fire is in your bed.
I acknowledge that there is an argument for accepting that certain things are directed at children and adults like me should keep their cynicism and snobbery out of it. Let the children enjoy their fun before they realize that society is devoid of magic or soul and the world is ending due to the parasitic nature of humanity, right? Well, this is where we run into a problem.
Personally, I think I am doing Michael a favor by taking his show at face value, albeit leading to me writing this rather nasty review. Because if we dive a little deeper into this show that is directed at children, we begin to run into some slightly offputting issues.
Is it appropriate for all of the women in the show to dance sexually while Michael orders them around? The men flex and thrust their crotches, while the female dancers parade around in bikinis and leotards, shaking their asses with the whole troupe performing perhaps the laziest choreography I have ever seen in a professional production. This isn’t a moral panic, hell yeah for sexual liberation and all that jazz, but this level of objectification in a male-led show feels very dated and reductive. Especially if you are going to aim your show at children to cover up for the lack of genuine quality. Choose a side: do genuinely impressive cabaret magic, preferably without the weird gender power dynamics that have stained stage magic for years, or put on a show appropriate for children.
It pains me to say that the bizarre sexual aspects performed for rows of children were not the most outrageous moments of the show. That came when dance number after dance number was based on increasingly unbelievable cultural appropriation from the monochromatic Australian dance troupe. It began with Michael telling us we were going to learn the “mysteries of the Orient”, which should be the world’s biggest red flag for any production, especially this side of 1980. But no, unfortunately, we travel through “the Orient”, “the jungle” which served as a euphemism for “we are going to dance like African people lol check this out”, and of course, Bollywood dancing to Jai Ho! as the tasteless icing on the cake.
I really did try to enjoy this show. It is rare that one finds themselves going along to a show that holds so much mystique, excuse the pun. Unfortunately, this production needs some serious work to be tolerable in 2022. The kids in the crowd loved it so that’s something I guess.