Rough Magic is essentially pantomime for the Marvel Comics generation, a light-hearted urban fantasy which feels a bit like a pilot for a wacky teen series. The zany plot sees New York menaced by the original, evil inspiration for Shakespeare’s magician Prospero. His son Caliban – recast as a virtuous Tarzan-like hero – escapes with his father’s book of magic and finds himself in the Big Apple. There he crosses paths with Melanie, a no-nonsense lady with a peculiar type of magic that lets her liberate characters from plays. Together with a colourful cast of characters new and old, they must stop Prospero’s plan to destroy the city and reclaim his prized possession.
The premise is silly but rather good fun if you go along with it. Fans of Neil Gaiman or the Percy Jackson series will enjoy the offbeat blend of the magical and the mundane. Witticisms fly and scarcely a joke falls flat. This is largely due to a cast of charismatic actors who throw themselves into their parts. They fill predictable roles – hero, wise advisor, theatrical villain, comic relief – but they do so with gusto, and the characters are memorably written. Sabenny Madrigal’s PhD student in magic (‘Columbia let you major in that?’) and Abe Rasheed’s lovable teen lifeguard and wannabe love interest were hilariously well acted and had some great lines. Other actors had a few problems with one-note delivery and there was a tendency to substitute shouting for nuance.
The show is at its best in New York, where the clash of magic and modern life is predictably madcap. Scenes set on Prospero’s island revert to amateur melodrama and interrupt the comic flow. After a rollicking set-up, the show drags through its middle section. The thrust of the plot is lost as the gang traverse the city in search of ways to escape or stop Prospero. There are plenty of uproarious moments such as an encounter with a burlesque trio of Furies, whose sassy leader Tisiphane (the rambunctious Vilo Jacquez) keeps the laughs coming throughout. On the whole the pacing feels more suited to a movie than a stage show; with too many scenes padding out the action, the script could do with tightening. I daresay half an hour off the runtime would spare the audience some tedium. Nevertheless, this is a fun, frivolous bit of entertainment with plenty of youthful appeal.