Real Magic – Forced Entertainment

Theatrical deconstructionists, Forced Entertainment are touring a new show that features a mind-reading act. Michael experienced ‘Real Magic’ at Platform Theatre in London’s King’s Cross.

© Hugo Glendinning

© Hugo Glendinning

“We’ve never met before, have we?”.

I can’t remember ever having seen an actual ‘mind-reading’ show (other then the smart-arse acts of Penn & Teller or Derren Brown – which I love) but the lexicon of pier-end mentalists is deeply engrained in my psyche. How did it get there?

“And you’ve never met Richard, have you?”

Maybe my recollection comes from the telly. Paul Daniels, in that hair-piece; a genuine master of performance who became so popular in his entertainment that he tipped head over heels into parody.

“Right, let’s get on with it.”

Forced Entertainment have been producing consistently brilliant work for decades but they are far from household names. Watching their performances is often uncomfortable, usually befuddling, always thought-provoking. Real Magic is all of these things.

Richard Lowden walks on stage in his pants and socks, like a nightmare we’ve all had; Jerry Killick joins him, in a comically oversized wig, suit and braces; and Claire Marshall is inexplicably dressed as a chicken.

“This is how it’s going to work.”

Claire is going to think of a word, blindfolded Richard is going to guess that word, and Jerry is going to compère the two.

“What’s the word, Richard?”

Whilst Claire holds up the word ‘caravan’, Richard makes his guess – “Electricity?”. Nope, it’s not electricity, have another go – “Hole?”. Nope, it’s not hole, have another go – “Money?”. Nope, let’s swap.

© Hugo Glendinning

The performers trade places and the merry goes round, again and again. Each time it’s the same but different. Every time, the same three wrong guesses. 

Intermittently, there’s recorded laughter running on an entirely different track.

Sometimes the pace is frantic, anxious to move on, with a countdown clock and spinning lights.

“I’ll have to hurry you.”

© Hugo Glendinning

Sometimes it’s teased out like we’re building the tension or filling for time, before the break, under the heat of the spotlights. “How are you spelling ‘hole’, Claire?”. “OK, h-o-l-e, hole like hole in your pocket, or hole in your shoe… or hole in your argument… or… hole in the space-time continuum. Nope, it’s not hole, have another guess”.

the subtle switches between characters are an object lesson for any aspiring actor

Performers change roles and change clothes (all three end up as chickens, all three parade in their pants) but they never change the result. Nope, nope, nope, let’s change.

The performances are superb; the subtle switches between characters are an object lesson for any aspiring actor. And the script (from Tim Etchells) is astonishing. Far from the shambolic improvisation that the action evokes, this must be a codification of days of ‘what if we did it like this’ read-throughs, distilled to the essence of those actions.

© Hugo Glendinning

Despite the tight scripting, the (ahem) ‘real magic’ of a live show is that every performance will be different. Tonight, the show is at Platform Theatre, in Central Saint Martin’s incredible new campus at King’s Cross. And the audience reaction was remarkable.

I’m used to Forced Entertainment splitting an audience. I usually go alone because I don’t know how friends or family will react to what’s on stage. I’d bought two tickets for tonight’s performance, thinking I might invite someone, but in the end I gave the spare away (to someone waiting for returns) rather than have to worry about the reaction of a companion. 

One audience member literally cannot contain himself, he’s spilling out with noise – laughter, snorts, exclamation, the occasional clap

Most of the rest of tonight’s audience are young and in groups.

There were a fair few walk-outs but the rest of us are locked-in to the repetition, the facsimile of light-entertainment.

We’re together in the dark, behaving like an audience, reverential, eyes-front, mouths shut, appreciative of the art.

Then something magical happened. The growing anxiety on stage leaps into the audience, breaking the spell of silence. One audience member literally cannot contain himself, he’s spilling out with noise – laughter, snorts, exclamation, the occasional clap; it’s infectious, there are outbreaks all through the audience. It’s the hysterical release of a drunken funeral. 

© Hugo Glendinning

The people is front of me loudly speculate that there are plants in the audience, deliberately causing disruption – ironically I find their speculation much more distracting than the attention-seeking laughers. 

The performers are unfazed, they spiral on. Claire is in the hot seat. Jerry is back as compere.

She’s convinced she knows the word, and that’s not surprising because she has no blindfold, she’s staring at Richard and he’s showing her the word ‘sausage’.

We’ve seen this happen dozens of times but this time we believe there will be a different result. It’s the very definition of madness.

It’s right in front of her, staring her in the face. He’s imploring her to guess and she’s laughing, she knows the word. He’s laughing at the shared joke.

The audience laughers are shouting – “it’s sausage, the word is sausage, oh my God!”.

“What’s the word, Claire; what’s the word that Richard is thinking of?”

She shifts her weight in her chair.

She giggles…

“is the word…



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