Real Magic review at the Studio, Edinburgh – ‘hypnotic game show parody’

Real Magic at the Studio, Edinburgh. Photo: Hugo Glendinning Real Magic at the Studio, Edinburgh. Photo: Hugo Glendinning
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This really is Forced Entertainment. Tim Etchells’ Real Magic compels a cast of three – core company members Richard Lowdon and Claire Marshall, plus regular collaborator Jerry Killick – to repeatedly play the same game show.  

One of them thinks of a word – always either caravan, algebra or sausage – and another has three chances to guess it, with the guesses always being electricity, hole and money, in that order. The third performer acts like a game show host, chivvying the contestants along with a microphone. Then they swap. 

Sometimes they’re wearing ludicrous chicken costumes and blindfolds. Sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re backed by a looped track of canned laughter, studio applause, seagulls cawing or a scratchy violin. 

It is infuriating, even purgatorial at first. But gradually, as it becomes clear that this is all that’s going to happen, the show becomes increasingly hypnotic. It’s Philip Glass theatre: the same pattern, over and over again, altered slightly. 

Each round of the show is different. Sometimes it’s fast, sometimes it’s slow. Sometimes it’s done with irritating bravado, sometimes with a desperate air of desolation, sometimes with a wry, winning smile. The gameshow master is variously kind, cruel or bored. The contestants either nervous, disinterested or despairing. Sometimes the tension is exquisite, sometimes the boredom is excruciating. 

As an experiment in what rigidly, crudely regimented performance can evoke, it’s extraordinary, thanks in part to the impressive versatility of Killick, Marshall, and Lowdon. But is there something else going on? A bigger picture? That’s anyone’s guess. 

Forced Entertainment lives up to its name with this hypnotic, cyclical game show parody