Sign up for our weekly newsletter

We Chat to Jocelyn Prah, Star of Hit Stage Show Magic Goes Wrong

1 April 22 interview: Ashley Carter
photos: Pamela Raith

When two of the biggest names in the magic, Penn and Teller, team up with Mischief Theatre, one the one of the most impressive success stories in recent theatre history, you know the results are going to be impressive. Enter Magic Goes Wrong, the part-comedy, part-show, part-magic show that’s blown audiences away up and down the country since going on tour last August. As the show enters the home straight of its tour with a visit to Nottingham’s Theatre Royal this month, we catch up with cast member Jocelyn Prah to find out exactly what to expect…

To kick things off, can you give us a bit of a rundown of Magic Goes Wrong?
It's a comedy play about a group of magicians who are trying to put on this charity event for our charity, Disasters in Magic. Essentially, in our effort to do that a lot of things go wrong, but that's where the comedy comes from. At the same time there's a lot of magic that actually does go right. It's quite a surprising show, I'd say. 

Can you tell us a bit about your character, Spitzmaus? Where does she fit into the narrative?
Spitzmaus is one half of a German gymnast duo along with my sister, Bär, played by Chloe Tannenbaum. We are the, for want of a better word, estranged sisters of Sophisticato, who is the compere for the night - the whole charity event is his brainchild. We're the German sisters who are coming over to showcase our act to a British audience for the first time. We think we're the best thing since sliced bread, and come over thinking that we're so much better than everyone else and have this amazingly slick act which, I will say, is actually quite true! We're different to the other characters in that we're actually more competent than the rest.

I’d imagine that the rehearsal process for any big touring show is quite intense - is that only intensified once you add the magical element too?
We rehearsed in London last June, which feels like another lifetime ago. The rehearsal process was quite intense. You know, we're just a bunch of actors that have never met before, as it is with most shows, so we had the usual element of learning the script, the story and the play, but the magic in the show is legit, so we had to learn that, too. We've got some of Penn and Teller's tricks, and had our own Magic Consultant, Ben Hart, who is a magician in his own right. That added a whole other layer of learning for all of us. On day one of rehearsals we read through the script together, and then Ben was teaching us all card tricks, regardless of whether we did them in the show or not. He told us that, from that point on, we were all magicians, and had to learn and understand the tricks. There was no tiptoeing around the magic - it's a precise science, and to get it right you have to learn it really, really well. I've been to see Ben Hart in some of his shows and even knowing a bit of magic having been taught by him, I'm still completely in awe of the things he can do, just because it's so well practised. 

Many of us know Penn and Teller, so to be able to say that I'm performing in a show co-created by them is incredible

How much magic can people expect to see? Is seeing how the tricks work or don’t work part of the entertainment?
The two things are intertwined. I've had friends come to see a performance not realising that they were seeing a real magic show, because the way the magic is placed in the story is seamless. There are elements of that way Penn and Teller perform - there's one particular trick which is performed, and then we explain how it's done, but then it's performed again with a plot twist, and that's where the narrative surprises of the story come in. You never quite know what's going to happen! And even if you think you do, you really don't. 

Do you have a favourite moment to perform?
Spitzmaus and Bär have a nice big chunk in Act II where we perform two big tricks. The first is quite intricate, and the second is quite astounding and shocking in that it's not at all what you expect. As I said before, because a lot of the comedy comes from things going wrong, you never quite know if the characters are going to get it right. So when we do, we hear the audible gasps from the audience. That's a really satisfying moment to know that, although we know we're playing a role in a play, those magic aspects of it are still impressive to the audience. I hope I haven't just jinxed myself...

How's the tour been going so far?
We've been on tour since last August so, with two months left, it feels like we're on the home straight. It's been going really, really well so far. We've gone from the south of England right up to the north of Scotland and, as well as Nottingham, we've got Cornwall and Dublin coming up, so we've been all over. It's interesting to see and hear how different audiences react in different parts of the country. Although we're playing the same show, they pick up on different things depending on where we are, and that helps keep it feel really fresh for us. It's the same with being in different venues each week - it helps to keep us on our toes. 

Do you get much downtime to explore the cities you visit?
It varies, to be honest, and depends how many shows we're doing and how tired we are! But I do try and get recommendations of things to do in each city, because I love getting out and trying to take in as much as I can. We're only in each city for a week, so it would be a shame not to see them. It's just a balancing act of trying to be rested for the show and seeing as much as we can! 

Do you have anything in particular you want to see or do when you come to Nottingham?
Well, to be honest, I was hoping you'd be able to give me some tips! Tell me what's good and I'll put it in the show group chat. 

You never quite know what's going to happen! And even if you think you do, you really don't

If you could have one magical power, what would it be?
Oooh that's a hard question! I need a minute to think about this... Maybe the ability to freeze time? 

So it's frozen for everyone else, and you can just go and get stuff done or sleep?
I mean, that would be great too, but I was more thinking that, with touring, time goes by so fast, so it would be more the ability to live a good day twice, you know? Just get as much out of the day as possible, so it would be the same for everybody with me too. 

That's much more honourable than my selfish interpretation...
To be fair, freezing time to sleep would be nice right now!

Mischief Theatre (The Play That Goes Wrong, The Comedy About a Bank Robbery, Peter Pan Goes Wrong) are one of the great success stories of modern British theatre. How does it feel to be part of their journey?
It feels really quite wonderful! I think because the company started with seven friends who trained together at Lamda [London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art], it still very much has that friend aspect to the company. Three of the writers have come out to see us in various venues, partly to check up on us and see how the show is going, but they also make the effort to come backstage and say hello and see how we're all doing. 

Equally, having two of the biggest names in magic with Penn and Teller attached as the show's co-creators must feel pretty good...
It's absolutely huge. Many of us know Penn and Teller, so to be able to say that I'm performing in a show co-created by them is incredible. And it's not inspired by them, it's not based on them, it's literally created with them. The Mischief writers went over to Las Vegas and created the show in-person with Penn and Teller. We definitely don't take that for granted. Every now and then they'll send a video message or an email to the company saying, "Hey guys, just want to say you're doing an amazing job," and that's a pretty incredible feeling. I'm just hoping that this leads to them inviting us to Las Vegas for a holiday... 

You can see Magic Goes Wrong at Nottingham Theatre Royal from Tuesday 29 March - Sunday 3 April. For more information and tickets, visit the TRCH website

We have a favour to ask…

LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?

Support LeftLion now

You might like this too...

Lost City Adventure Golf

You might like this too...