No Magic

Julia Lichnova Dinan 8 March 2010

ADC Lateshow, Wed 3rd-Sat 6th March 2010


Max Barton’s No Magic, written, directed, and starring the author himself as the lead, is certainly a singular and vibrant experience with a clear authorial stamp. Yet while the play hit many of the hallmarks of expressionist theatre – heightened speech, dramatized journey through life, struggles against authority – excellent, energetic performances often suffered from a script that was perhaps too varied, too eclectic and – at times – just too plain predictable.

To start with the positive, there is no question about the superb standard of production in this play. Scene changes, or rather mood changes, were orchestrated entirely by a vivid combination of lighting, movement and music with impressive speed and spontaneity; silhouettes behind a screen were an innovative and atmospheric touch. It seemed, however, that the opportunities offered by the ADC stage were wasted on a physical, one-prop production. Furthermore, reliance on lighting caused lurid and confusing rainbows of colours to span the stage in seconds, and the blackouts, in which the actors eerily descended on the audience, were distracting rather than atmospheric.

While the level of acting was very high, the play lacked actual characterisation. Potentially distinct performances, such as Ryan O’Sullivan’s agile Gabriel, were swept into the endless stream of exclamations and angular movements; a couple of sketch-like scenes with the Judge and the Tutor served as welcome breaks from this flurrious melange, and gave Susie Chrystal and Nahuel Telleria a chance to sparkle as comic grotesques. Harry’s final speech, while finely crafted, strangely suffered from an unconvincing delivery, however.

One hesitates to come down harshly on promising student writing, but it must be said: the script felt too experimental to be convincing. Barton’s highly stylised language is peppered with predictable rhyme, which ultimately detracted from meaning. The storyline – student comes to university, shags about, takes drugs, goes to jail, battles schizophrenia – was not innovative, even puerile at times, and too often relied on self-referential Cambridge humour; nor was it improved by references to how similar the protagonist was to Harry Potter. The show views rather as a sort caffeine advertisement – so saturated with pure, unrelenting physical theatricality that the struggles at its heart were inevitably steamrolled. 

Julia Lichnova Dinan