Magical Realism in the Theatre


Magical realism (or magic realism) is a term first used in the art world by German critic Franz Roh (1925) and later in literature by Cuban author Alejo Carpentier (1949). It typically refers to the coexistence of the real and fantastical, the natural and the supernatural, the normal and magical worlds. In magical realism, elements of fantasy are not questioned.

Increasingly, playwrights are developing new works in this form and magical realism is becoming more common in the theatre. Plays of the genre may include:

  • non-human characters
  • timelessness
  • characters with supernatural powers
  • other worlds
  • a sense of mystery
  • eerie atmospheres
  • extraordinary events unable to be explained by rational thought
  • myths and legends
  • unusual time shifts
  • moments where the unreal becomes real

Importantly, in magical realism the fantastical and supernatural exist in a realistic setting and are accepted by other characters as normal. They coexist in a realistic world that would ordinarily make them irreconcilable.

Examples of magical realism in the theatre include Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America, Marisol by José Rivera, Sarah Ruhl’s play The Clean House and the works of José Cruz González.

5 Responses

  1. Jono B says:

    2018 I did Masquerade by Aussie playwright Kate Mulvany. It was the most beautiful show I’ve ever been a part of! We discussed it as a mixture of magical realism, musical theatre and children’s theatre.
    This year I’m doing The Unravelling by UK playwright Fin Kennedy. Also some super cool magical realism stuff, with slight influences of Epic theatre.

  2. Louize Lyle says:

    Does anyone know if there are any good filmed live productions of any of these Australian Magical Realism plays?

  3. Joe says:

    Magic Realism plays by Australian authors:

    Away by Michael Gow
    The 7 Stages of Grieving by Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman
    The Year Nick McGowan Came to Stay by Rebecca Sparrow
    Summer Wonderland by Matthew Ryan
    Neighbourhood Watch by Lally Katz
    Home by Margi Brown Ash
    At Sea, Staring Up by Finegan Kruckemeyer
    Prehistoric by Marcel Dorney
    Wet Dogs by Stephen Davis
    Headspace by Brad Jennings
    The Trolleys by Sara West
    Fight With All Your Might The Zombies Of Tonight by Matthew Whittet
    Blue Bones by Merlynn Tong
    Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore by Daniel Evans
    Wonder Fly by Nick Atkins
    Spontaneous Human Combustion by Daniel Evans
    Chasing the Whale by Matthew Ryan
    Feather in the Web by Nick Coyle
    Charlie Pilgrim by Sam O’Sullivan
    Brisbane by Matthew Ryan

  4. Ananta Mahfuj says:

    It’s an important discussion in short. Thank you, Justin. Would you give a detail list of dramas which contain magic realism?

  5. CJ says:

    Thanks for that Justin. We have been currently discussing Magic Realism in my Year 12 class with one of our Contemporary Australian texts we are studying – ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ by Lally Katz. Thanks for summing it up so well.

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