I was intrigued about A Mirror before I even got to my seat. Its description on the website doesn't give much away (and I don't like to read any interviews until afterwards).
The Almeida foyer is decked out ready for a wedding celebration. But alongside pink ribbons and pastel balloons, there is a huge Oath of Allegiance on the wall and notices from the Ministry of Culture reminding you of the rules and regulations.
That contrast in tone - celebration and authority - is emblematic of Sam Holcroft's play which has you thinking you are watching one thing, only for the curtain to be ripped back to reveal something else.
A Mirror is about making theatre when the state decides what is and isn't suitable to be put on stage. And from the moment you step into the decorated foyer, you are part of the narrative.
Inspired by Holcroft's visit to North Korea, Adem (Michael Ward) submits his first play to the Ministry of Culture for approval.
It ends up in the hands of Čelik (Jonny Lee Miller), a slightly sinister senior official who happens to have a love - and knowledge - of theatre. He doesn't want to necessarily follow a check list of suitability, but he does have firm ideas about what theatre should and shouldn't be.
He sees talent in Adem if only it can be channelled into material appropriate for public viewing.
Tanya Reynolds plays Mei, a junior in the Ministry whom Čelik decides is worthy of educating in the finer points of the arts, although he may have other less wholesome motivations.
And Geoffrey Streatfeild plays Bax, a successful-and-knows-it playwright under the patronage of Čelik.
The play raises questions about the role of theatre and the arts and how it can or can't reflect society. Or whether it should. Is art life or life art?
It is about authority, power and ego and how that is reflected in art - and artifice. It is a play of many layers and revelations which have to be enjoyed and experienced first-hand.
Each of the main cast gives a uniquely brilliant performance, the skill of which unfolds with the play.
From start to finish, A Mirror is clever. At times it reminded me of Brecht. It is at turns sinister, laugh-out-loud funny and thought-provoking.
I want to see it again because I think there is so much more to discover. I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
This was a preview performance, and I bought my own ticket.
A Mirror, Almeida Theatre
Written by Sam Holcroft
Directed by Jeremy Herrin
Starring: Jonny Lee Miller, Michael Ward, Tanya Reynolds and Geoffrey Streatfeild
Running time 2 hours without an interval
Booking until 23 September; visit the Almeida website for more details and to buy tickets.
From the archive: Review of Sam Holcroft's Rules of Living
The Effect, National Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until Oct 7
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Wonder Drug: A Comedy About Cystic Fibrosis, Omnibus Theatre (Edinburgh Fringe preview) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ and a half
Accidental Death of Anarchist, Theatre Royal Haymarket ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until 9 September
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