A dictionary definition of ‘magic’ gives three potential uses: deployment of ritual as a means of controlling or transcending nature, making things seem to defy physical laws for entertainment purposes, and denoting a mysterious quality of enchantment.
It is mostly the latter part of the meaning that pertains to Forced Entertainment’s Real Magic. However, there is also something of relevance in the potential juxtaposition of the two words in the title. That said, as this show will quickly demonstrate, it is not the words that matter at all in this context, but rather their delivery in performance.
Real Magic is a sequence of numerous iterations of one and the same brief scenario. It involves three figures – let’s call them a ‘presenter’, a ‘contestant’ and a ‘stranger’ – whereby the contestant is invited to have three goes at guessing which word the stranger is thinking of while displaying the same word on a cardboard clearly visible to the audience. The contestant always gets it wrong, and the three performers – in various states of undress – rotate these three roles and the same dialogue between themselves over and over again with variations to pace, tone, expression and sometimes the actual text itself. Occasionally the sequence is punctuated with a dance routine in which the three performers don head-to-toe chicken costumes. At other times, sporadic riffs on the mundane dialogue, take off into heightened lyricsm.
The performers go through a series of moods – at first the delivery is fun and efficient; after a while we start to sense growing despair, we realise these figures are trapped in a construction they cannot escape even if they are aware of its absurdity; we witness a transition to frenzy and fuzziness to, eventually, extreme effort and burning desire ending in futility, all laced with a great sense of humour.
The canned laughter and applause, bright lights and jingles which form the show’s design make explicit its debt to TV game shows and, further back still, to music hall. Game structures are a regular feature in Forced Entertainment’s work, although what might make this one challenging is a lack of foreseeable closure.
Thirty-two years into their existence, Forced Entertainment are making their Edinburgh Festival debut, and their work has met with both enthusiasm and puzzlement (not excluding walkouts). This is useful as it highlights the fact that over the decades, the audiences primed by the company’s taste for repetition and absurdity have learnt that in order for the game to work, the audience has to watch the show like an anthropologist or a philosopher, rather than a mere seeker of theatrical entertainment. This is how mere enchantment gives way to real magic – or maybe even at times, magic of the supernatural kind.
Real Magic is on at The Studio until 27th August 2017. Click here for more details.