A Mirror, written by Sam Holcroft, boldly declares itself as a lie from the outset. The posters proclaim, "This play is a lie”, setting the tone for a production that navigates the realms of free expression, censorship, and the blurred lines between fiction and reality. Directed by Jeremy Herrin, A Mirror embarks on a captivating journey through the intricacies of authority, fiction and propaganda.
Transferring from its successful run at The Almeida, the Trafalgar Theatre becomes the setting for an immersive wedding experience as the audience is greeted with flowers, balloons, fairy lights, and a chandelier. We are told that the ceremony will last two hours and are asked to stand for the entrance of the bride. However, this joyous facade quickly fades away as we discover that we have gathered to witness a subversive, unlicensed play.
Describing this play is akin to unravelling the layers of an onion – a continuous peeling back of metatheatrical elements. Inspired by Luigi Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of An Author, Holcroft's a ‘play within a play within a play' unravels new surprises at every turn. Without revealing any spoilers, the plot revolves around Mr ?elik (Jonny Lee Miller), director of the Ministry of Culture in a dystopian setting, tasked with the role of censoring art. In this narrative, a young car mechanic named Adem (Samuel Adewunmi) crafts a play that vividly portrays the harsh reality of life in his impoverished high-rise flats. Mr ?elik finds himself in a precarious position, needing to strike a delicate balance between censorship and supporting emerging talent. To navigate these complexities, ?elik initiates a playwriting workshop, enlisting the help of Bax (Geoffrey Streatfeild), an established writer with state-friendly affiliations, and Mei (Tanya Reynolds), a recently appointed assistant at the ministry.
Under Herrin's meticulous direction, the play delves into crime fiction rules, avoiding deliberate misinformation while embracing confusion and misdirection. The intricate set of subtexts woven by Holcroft could easily overwhelm, but Herrin's vision ensures clarity, allowing meaning to emerge without imposition.
The cast, led by Jonny Lee Miller, delivers solid performances that draw the audience into the unfolding drama filled with surprises. Yet, the duration of two hours proves somewhat tedious, occasionally presenting a simplistic (and sometimes repeated) binary between pessimistic realism and the optimistic rhetoric of the government. The breaking of the fourth wall, while attempting to engage the audience, comes across as slightly contrived.
Despite its shortcomings, A Mirror encourages reflection on broad themes like authority, power, and ego, exploring their manifestation in both art and artifice. The intriguing and occasionally frustrating nature of the play ensures that its impact lingers long after leaving the theatre. It serves as a thought-provoking exploration of societal themes and the role of art within the constraints of authority.
This is one of those plays that, like an enigmatic puzzle, is best witnessed first-hand, prompting us to ponder the age-old question: Is art life, or is life art?
A Mirror plays at the Trafalgar Theatre until 20 April. For more information and tickets, follow the link here.
Review: Caleb Lee @caleblee Photos: Marc Brenner