Magical Madame Z

By Kirstin Buick
02 August 2013

Madame Zingara weaves her special kind of magic to ensure a night to remember.

Last night I almost ran away to join the circus. Or rather, a Theatre of Dreams


As I walked through the heart-shaped entrance of the Madame Zingara grounds at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town I was unconvinced about the R385 starting price of a ticket for entry to this theatre. But I couldn’t deny it – there was a buzz in the air, a feeling of anticipation radiating from one wide-eyed guest to the next.

I arrived about 45 minutes before the audience was asked to be seated, thinking I’d have plenty of time to get into the spirit of things and buy a sparkling hat from the Bijoux Boutique and get my face painted. But by the time I’d shuffled through the packed entrance way, marvelled at the beautifully costumed, motionless centurions standing guard at the entrance to the theatre and joined my place in the queue to get my face painted, people were starting to drift into the theatre. Not wanting to miss any part of the show, I left the throng of people in front of the face-painting station to find my seat.

Sadly face paint-less, I entered the theatre. It was as though I‘d stepped into a Baz Luhrmann movie. The voluminous tent was exquisitely over the top.  Candlelight reflected in the hundreds of mirrors and stained-glass windows that ring the venue.

Cowboys, pirates, devils, gypsies and other characters scurried around the room, ushering guests to their seats, occasionally shrieking, “I’ve got a virgin here,” at bewildered people who’d never seen the show before. My attentive “floor fairy” – Zingarian for waiter, I believe – introduced himself as Morning Glory. “You don’t want to know how I got that name,” he said amiably before darting off.

The first of four courses arrived before the show began, a mezze platter of breadsticks, olives, cheese and a sumptuous roasted tomato soup in an espresso cup.  And then the music rose, the lights dimmed, and the transition into an alternate reality began. The show was starting.

I sat through the acts – acrobats, contortionists, jugglers, human foot jugglers – slack-jawed and stunned, coming up for air when Morning Glory reappeared with starters (a ravioli-like envelope of mushrooms and truffle oil), mains (I opted for Madame Zingara’s signature dish, a chocolate chilli fillet) and dessert (a platter of chocolate dishes – chocolate tiramisu, brownies, chocolate phyllo pastry and a dish of chocolatey ice-cream). The pasta envelope starter was pleasant and the dessert was lovely, but the fillet, although it arrived slightly cold, was sensational. The curious chocolate-chilli sauce is an unexpectedly exquisite blend of savoury and sweet, and I unashamedly mopped up every drop on the plate.

Meals were complemented by performances by The Specifics, who debuted in the Cape Town leg of the Madame Zingara tour. The all-girl quartet were the unsung (forgive the pun) heroes of the show, keeping their harmonic performances lively and energetic, even while the audience was too busy licking the choc-chilli sauce off their plates to pay attention to the stage.

The first segment of the show featured a relatively new act - a juggler from Transylvania, Alwin - who somehow managed to endear himself to the audience without saying a word. During his grand finale, juggling glow-in-the-dark rings - I lost count of how many rings there were - he dropped one. With wry smile, he made a production of reattempting the trick as the audience egged him on, screaming in delight when he triumphantly caught all the rings. Looking back, I suspect this may have been part of the act. Nevertheless, he sauntered off the stage to adoring applause.

In the second act, one of the acrobats reappeared to perform what I now know is called an aerial wet act, which sees her frolicking in a golden bath and the harness above it, flicking her wet hair over the audience. I was waiting for this – I had been told it was the act to watch out for – but I found the performance gimmicky. Compared to the incredible talent of Ziggy the Mongolian contortionist or the mesmerising Russian strength act, a scantily-clad women flicking her hair around in a bath seemed too easy, clichéd even.

But her performance was quickly followed up by a ridiculous skit in the bathtub by the lovable MC, The Hot Mr C, which cleansed the palette and left the crowd in stitches.

As the evening progressed, pockets of the audience became steadily more boisterous, with a couple even attempting to get up on the stage at one point to dance with The Specifics. A stage manager good naturedly ushered them off.  But organisers seemed to have sensed there’d be a need to give the audience the opportunity to dance, and Morning Glory suddenly appeared out of nowhere and twirled me on to the stage, indicating to the rest of the audience that it was all right to join in.

The end of the show seemed to signal the start of the party. The wide-eyed guests had transformed into a glittering, feathered horde of dancers. The costumed waiters danced among them, but I struggled to tell the difference.

The Madame had worked her magic.

-Kirstin Buick

For more information, go to Madame Zingara's website.

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