WRITER: SAM HOLCROFT
DIRECTOR: JEREMY HERRIN
CAST: JONNY LEE MILLER, TANYA REYNOLDS, GEOFFREY STREATFEILD; MICHEAL WARD
ALMEIDA THEATRE N1
UNTIL SATURDAY 23 SEPTEMBER
Photos: Marc Brenner
Top: Micheal Ward and Geoffrey Streatfeild; Jonny Lee Miller and Geoffrey Streatfeild; Micheal Ward; Jonny Lee Miller
Bottom: Tanya Reynolds and Micheal Ward; Tanya Reynolds, Micheal Ward and Jonny Lee Miller; Geoffrey Streatfeild
REVIEW by KATHLEEN BONDAR
People are presentational, truth is concealed and free speech is constrained in Sam Holcroft’s new play set in some unspecific, dystopian, Orwellian autocracy. Added to these conundrums is the play within a play, a mock wedding and the promise of an unexpected, climatic scene (which reviewers are encouraged not to disclose). Confused? You might well be.
What is A Mirror about then? With the occasional marital moment, which acts an excuse for the play’s audience to watch a banned play, A Mirror is seemingly about a young mechanic turned playwright called Adem (Michael Ward) who transcribes real conversations in verbatim as dialogue for his plays.
Championed by Celik (Jonny Lee Miller), the Minister of Culture, Adem enters the dangerous world of censorship under a regime which bans the likes of Shakespeare when he submits a play for approval. Celik rejects Adem’s play based on those conversations he has overheard in his apartment block. However, with the help of his bemused assistant, Mei (Tanya Reynolds), Celik encourages Adem to write about military heroism more like Bax (Geoffrey Streatfeild), the national playwright.
Added to all that the audience in the play (played by the actual audience in the theatre) is encouraged to stand for the wedding ceremony and swear allegiance to the authorities when various officials barge in.
Of course, appearances are deceptive. Except for Adem, who just wants “to tell the truth”, each character hides their feelings and experiences. Celik loves plays although he must censor them and he longs for Mei whom he cannot win. Bax is a lascivious drunk who rages against his own mediocrity whilst feigning pride in his work. Mei is a model of acquiescence but her experience of the futility of combat hides a passionate and insightful nature.
It can be labouring to keep second guessing what/who is real and what/who is pretence in A Mirror and to some extent it becomes onerous. Consequently, the worthy themes of censorship and truth are overstretched. And by the end, the anticipation of the climatic ending is consequently diminished.
We know the authorities are controlling people’s behaviour and expression. We know the Ministry of Culture is an agency which censors creativity. We know the military control the conscripted and conceal the futility of combat. Indeed, everyone’s public persona is very different from their private. And everyone fears the consequences of speaking the truth about their lives. All this points to ruling powers past and present across the globe and lovers of literature might well reference other acclaimed tomes.
Life lessons aside, Sam Holcroft’s energetic and witty play comes together abetted by a tremendous cast and joins the canon of thought-provoking, quality productions courtesy of the Almeida. Tanya Reynolds as Mei delivers sardonic asides with merely a word or glance. Jonny Lee Miller, as the Minister, is a force of frustrated energy. Geoffrey Streatfeild is an entertaining scoundrel and Michael Ward as the young playwright is a superb disrupter despite the scarcity of his lines.