Real Magic – Review

I have this recurring nightmare that I keep being woken up by the drip of the bathroom tap. The constantly, monotonous, repetitive drip not allowing me the peace of a good night’s sleep. The drip becomes almost deafening, sometimes echoing in volume, others barely audible, sometimes toying with me as it quickens its pace – the drip driving me to insanity. And that my dear reader is in a microcosm the viewing experience of Forced Entertainment’s Real Magic, which I had the pleasure of watching at HOME.

Real Magic is the same scene repeated over and over and over again. For nigh on 90 minutes. There is the sound of looped applause and canned laughter, a trio of performers who take it turns to play a part in an unseemingly, unfathomable game show in which they are tasked to guess what the other is thinking. It is according to the notes: “part mind-reading, part cabaret act, part chaotic game show”.

Those performers are Richard Lowdon, Claire Marshall and Jerry Killick, who devised this extravaganza. Forced Entertainment are renowned for their provocative performances culminating in the 2016 International Ibsen Award, which honours exceptional contributions and new artistic dimension to the world of theatre. (Only the Norwegians with it’s national obsession with international prizes could be so ostentatious about an art form).

Forced Entertainment’s previous productions include a 24-hour gameshow, a six-hour improvised production that invited confessions, and a retelling of Shakespeare through the use of household items. So, it is safe to assume that these people DO NOT do run of the mill quaint little plays that people love to watch.

Here’s their blurb for their current flight of fancy: “Real Magic might be one of the hardest of our pieces to introduce. Easy enough to say what’s there, but tricky, in so many ways, to set it to words” And if the performers and those creatives can’t find the words ladies and gentlemen, then what hope does this scribe have?

Well, for one thing, it’s a brilliant piece of technical theatre and no mistake. To take one scene and replay it repetitively to the extent that it does, is to take the audience on a range of emotions. Anticipation, wonderment, bewilderment, curiosity, confusion, boredom, frustration, puzzlement. Having gone through this psychological warfare, I found myself at one with the cast, willing for the excruciating torture to end. The repetition that forms so much of the core of this production is beguilingly seductive. The tweaks in the tempo and the emphasis of the script from each reiteration is like watching some DJ remix the same sample into one glorious hook.

Yet, without context there is nothing to this. Tim Etchells, the director of Real Magic and a key member of Forced Entertainment, would love us to believe there is more to this than just performers uttering the same few words again. He himself states in the programme notes that Real Magic …

“seeks to question things more broadly, picking at the complex political place we find ourselves in these days – down the bumpy road to Brexit, in the dark realm of Trump”.

It’s completely incredulous to suggest it does when there is such a disconnect. We do not know why these performers are caught in an infinite loop, we do not know what prize they will win if they are to answer the questions correctly, we do not know why they are dressed in chicken suits, or are in their underwear.

Nor should we care. It’s just three performers. It’s just chicken suits. It’s just words. What makes this theatre worth eulogising about is that it forces the watcher to confront this context for themselves. It makes us want to think.

Sometimes it’s not the illusion itself that enthralls the watching public but the desperate need to understand the illusion itself. Real Magic follows this wonderful formula to the bitter end. The illusion may not be enthralling to everyone but everyone wants to know the real magic behind the trick.

Verdict: An intoxicating and beguiling mix of watching performers go through the same trick again and again. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will probably make you want to scream. 

What: Forced Entertainment: Real Magic
Where: HOME Manchester
When: 30th November 2017