A Mirror ★★★ Almeida Theatre | Aug 15 - Sep 23, 2023

The premise of Sam Holcroft's new play is that the audience is attending a wedding which is really a ruse for seeing a subversive play deemed unsuitable by a repressive, totalitarian society. The play in question is about the role and responsibility of art in such an authoritarian society. The presentation is clever and provocative and the story has an artful twist, but at two hours without an interval it all seems rather drawn out. There is also the staging of two plays within the play which comes off as a bit too meta, if not redundant. Nevertheless, Holcroft is dealing with some interesting ideas and the production is a strong one. As the bureaucrat from the Ministry of Culture, not Censorship, Jonny Lee Miller puts in a powerful performance as Čelik. It is his job to massage writers into producing propaganda, rather than delivering a representation of reality that would be classified as dissident. But, when faced with the young writer, Adem, played by Micheal Ward, Čelik confronts a unique challenge. Adem transcribes reality to the stage and naïvely resists the blandishments of the bureaucrat which have transformed Geoffrey Streatfield's Bax into a renowned national playwright. The foil to all of Čelik's Svengali-like manipulation is the delightfully dim Mei, perfectly played by Tanya Reynolds. Her gradual realisation of what is happening parallels the audience's. The almost allegorical nature of this work means that the characters are all rather flat by E.M. Forster's definition. However, they do become engaging, and the rather didactic tone of the evening is redeemed by the reveal at the conclusion. A Mirror proves to be a thoughtful reflection on issues faced by writers and their audiences, not only in societies who have obviously oppressive regimes. Here's a play worth attending and pondering.

Rated: ★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Marc Brenner

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