Theatre review: Revolution In The Magic Square

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These are strange and difficult times for the organisation: there’s a new leader from the left who has strong grassroots support but is opposed by most of his senior colleagues, and pressure is mounting around whether he’s got what it takes to win over the general public.

Star rating: ****

Venue: Theatre Arts Exchange (Venue 116)

This isn’t the Labour Party, mind you, but the Magic Square, the venerable professional association that socialist magician Ian Saville unexpectedly finds himself leading.

Such is the premise of Revolution in the Magic Square, the latest mischievously tongue-in-cheek show from Saville, who for 35 years has been using stage magic as an unexpectedly shrewd and entertaining vehicle for left-wing discourse. In this show, he casts himself as an obvious proxy for Jeremy Corbyn, relating the story of his surprise elevation to the leadership of the fictitious Magic Square, his battles with his “Shadowy Cabinet”, and the great challenge of winning the nation’s votes on the TV show UK’s Got Ability.

All this is illustrated with magic tricks that combine considerable skill with metaphorical meaning: multiplying hankies in a box, for instance, stand in for the surplus value generated by workers in a factory.

While some engagement with leftie politics is probably helpful, this is far from a po-faced lecture. Saville has an impish, self-deprecating charm and he deftly deploys both daft props (a talking portrait of Marx) and groanworthy wordplay (he gained escapologists’ support, he reports, by assuring them “they had nothing to lose but their chains”).

However playful, though, there’s no doubting the political sincerity. There’s satirical power in the positioning of Conservatives as “supernaturalists” akin to faith healers, promising economic and social miracles they can’t deliver, but glib left-wing attitudes to “normal people” are also mocked. The really impressive trick, Saville implies, would be the achievement of genuine, meaningful change.

Until 21 August. Today 5pm.

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