Review: Afterglow, Southwark Playhouse - passionate and poignant
Review: 10 Nights, Omnibus Theatre - well-paced, funny and warm

Review: A Mirror, Trafalgar Theatre - truth and lies in theatre

Tanya Reynolds and Samuel Adewunmi for A Mirror at the Trafalgar Theatre - photo by Marc Brenner
Tanya Reynolds and Samuel Adewunmi in A Mirror at the Trafalgar Theatre - photo by Marc Brenner

The wedding between Layla and Joel is back on, having found a new venue at the Trafalgar Theatre.

Sam Holcroft's play A Mirror, which won rave reviews when it opened at the Almeida Theatre, has brought its lies to the West End.

That isn't a spoiler, it tells us the play is a lie in a tagline. And we, the audience, are complicit; we play along as wedding guests, standing for the bride and later to take an oath.

But for which lie are we complicit?

Inspired by Sam Holcroft's visit to North Korea, this is a play about culture in a repressive regime. What theatre is suitable for public consumption in the eyes of the state? Who is it for, and what does theatre mean in that scenario?

It is also about the truth and lies of theatre arts.

Layla and Joel's wedding is a performance, not so much a play within a play but a play to hide a play. 

That play follows Čelik (Jonny Lee Miller), the director at the Ministry of Culture, who believes he is a connoisseur of the arts and wants to improve the quality of what gets approved for performance.

When a play written by car mechanic Adem (Samuel Adewunmi) lands on his desk, it contains so many infractions of what is 'acceptable' theatre that Čelik should report him to the Ministry of Security.

Samuel Adewunmi and Jonny Lee Miller for A Mirror at the Trafalgar Theatre - photo by Marc Brenner
Samuel Adewunmi and Jonny Lee Miller in A Mirror at the Trafalgar Theatre - photo by Marc Brenner

But he sees talent in what is Adem's honest presentation of the life of ordinary people living in his block of flats.  Čelik believes with a bit of guidance, Adem might be able to emulate the country's celebrated playwright Bax (Geoffrey Streatfeild).

He also decides Mei (Tanya Reynolds), a junior in the Ministry, is worthy of similar guidance in the finer points of the arts. However, he may have other, less wholesome motives for that relationship.

Čelik holds a lot of power, but not all the power and what inspires and resonates with one person is not the same as another. What one person sees in a mirror is not what someone else sees.

If art manipulates to generate a particular response, what truth can theatre hold?

Jonny Lee Miller's performance nuanced mix of heightened energy, arrogance and fragile ego. And Tanya Reynolds is equally a highlight, delivering a multi-layered/multi-character performance that, to unpick here, would give away too much about what is going on. 

A Mirror is a different play on second viewing. The first time is full of surprises and twists, but knowing the plot, there are more layers to peel back, and more is revealed.

This is an entertaining and, at times, funny play, but it also feels provocative and probing. Is that the truth of theatre?

A Mirror, Trafalgar Theatre

Written by Sam Holcroft

Directed by Jeremy Herrin

Starring: Jonny Lee Miller, Samuel Adewunmi, Tanya Reynolds and Geoffrey Streatfeild

Running time 2 hours without an interval

Booking until 20 April; for more information and to book, visit the Trafalgar Theatre website.

Related reads:

Sam Holcroft Guardian interview

From the archive: Review of Sam Holcroft's Rules of Living

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