Touring – reviewed at HOME, Manchester
Guest reviewer: Daniel Shipman
As with much of Forced Entertainment’s work, Real Magic at HOME revolves around a set of established (but unspoken) rules. Here, these rules take the form of a game show that seems to be taking place in limbo – the three performers take it in turns to play a host, a contestant and a third role you could roughly describe as an expert. The expert thinks of a word and shows it to the audience on a piece of cardboard, whilst the host encourages the contestant to take three guesses at what that word might be. Their three guesses are always the same words in the same order, and they are never correct. This continues for the duration.
The problem with Real Magic is that it spends far too long establishing those rules and not nearly enough time playing within them, or having fun breaking them. There are well-observed caricatures of all the archetypal game show characters; the contestant who acts as if they are performing an exorcism rather than a simple task, the host who has been in the job far too long and makes no attempt to hide their fatigue, the expert who gleefully expresses incredulity at the limitless stupidity of the contestant.
Whilst these crude characters can be fun to watch for a while, they make up the bulk of the show’s 90-minute running time and in my opinion, this is an over-estimation of how entertaining it is to watch. This is a shame because the moments when the cast really begin to have fun breaking the rules are the highlights of the show – Richard Lowdon illegitimately whispering the word ‘sausage’ across the stage got the laugh of the evening, despite the audience knowing that the contestant was doomed to failure anyway.
The show can be thought provoking. The contestant’s third guess is always money and when you see them shouting that word with increasing desperation, you begin to examine the ethics behind game shows – inviting people on TV to entertain the masses by humiliating themselves for the vague possibility of a cash prize.
An entertaining night in purgatory, but a night in purgatory all the same.