Real Magic review: A ludicrous Groundhog Day gameshow

Dublin Theatre Festival: This never-ending gameshow is bleak, painful, playful and sometimes funny

Real Magic: canned laughter, tense music, ticking clock. Photograph: Hugo Glendinning

Real Magic: canned laughter, tense music, ticking clock. Photograph: Hugo Glendinning



Space Upstairs, Project Arts Centre
This show is a living hell. Based on a gameshow, three performers play a round of a ludicrous guess-the-word game with ridiculous odds, where there is no possibility of getting the answer right. The trio (host, contestant, word-thinker) recite it over and over again in an endless loop, punctuated by changing places places - “swap!” - and chicken costumes, and occasionally, in a parody of blessed relief, a “dance” to break the monotony.

Experimental British company Forced Entertainment’s new show, directed by Tim Etchells, is wrapped in all the tropes of gameshow, with canned laughter, elongated checking of answers, tense music, ticking clock. They’re stretched beyond the format into a sort of grotesque Groundhog Day. The corny laugh track, flashing lights and forced cheeriness become devilish. “Richard, are you sure that’s your answer?”

These endless variations on a theme differ in tone, mood, speed; the mind-reading cabaret game is by turns playful, over-enthusiastic, bored, languorous. Sometimes it’s slick, sometimes it’s messy. But it’s always the same.

With each re-play of this absurdist routine, the audience sticks with it. It’s amusing to observe the rapt attention, or polite attention, the odd titter, frustration, the mystified hopelessness. At one stage a man in the audience emits a loud sigh, and breaks the pattern.

A regular refrain from the host when the contestant is settled is “Are you happy? Is it fair?”

Of course it’s not fair. It is absurd and silly and monotonous and hopeless. It plays with our sense of expectation, the nature of reinvention, the balance of familiarity with longing for change and transformation. You begin to wonder, is this show going to go on forever, until someone among us roars the correct answer at them, or gives up?

As you yearn for the pattern to break, the show becomes a kind of torture for the audience, and maybe that’s what it’s all about. We are trapped here, doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. That’s life. (Or that’s Brexit.) Or perhaps it’s hell, with endless repetition and no hope of redemption.

If this sounds bleak and painful, it’s also playful and sometimes funny. And very skilfully, carefully played by Jerry Killick, Richard Lowdon and Claire Marshall.

I can’t tell you how it ends.

Runs as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival until Wednesday, October 9th. Also runs as part of the Belfast International Arts Festival on Tuesday, October 22nd and Wednesday, October 23rd