Home Estate Planning A Mirror play review: The Matrix turns sitcom in clever dystopian world

A Mirror play review: The Matrix turns sitcom in clever dystopian world

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A Mirror play review and star rating: ★★★★

Like musicals about putting on musicals, plays about putting on plays has become a trope. Also currently on in London, The Motive and The Cue examines the life of playwright John Gielgud, but A Mirror manages to feel much more open than that: rather than appealing to theatre luvvies, through the art of writing it attempts to ask big, important questions about the systems of power that guide us.

Jonny Lee Miller and Sex Education’s Tanya Reynolds return to A Mirror four months after the inaugural run at the Almeida closed – and it’s no wonder the duo have graduated to a bigger stage so quickly: they are fearsome together. Reynolds is hilarious as the perenially awkward assistant in the Ministry of Culture, forever not knowing where to put her limbs, or what to say. Her Mei has shades of Reynold’s nerdy character in Sex Education but like in that show, she goes oodles deeper than just clowning around. Lee Miller is formidable as the controlling, charismatic Minister of Culture Čelik, prancing around and dominating the space not so much like a lion, but like a cheetah; leaner and quicker to the kill. His arrogance leads him to think he’s open-minded but actually his worldview is as closed as it could be. 

We’re in some dystopian reality where the Minister of Culture controls the plays that can be put on. He lands on a script from Adem, a lowly employee who doesn’t understand why the boss is suddenly so interested in his development. They spar over alternative ways to write, and elicitly put on shows to practice their form, hiding from the authorities who would ban plays if they knew they were being put on.

It’s a tightly wound and constructed satirical rumination on the layers of power that ensnare us all, whether we project an image of power ourselves or not. Both the Minister and Adem ultimately believe the plays they write display “truth”, but in a censored state, the means by which we assess good writing and valuable storytelling are splintered. Stick with me here, but it’s a play within a play set within a fake wedding to throw off authorities, and audiences get to be a part of that fun; director Jeremy Herrin always nimbly balancing the darkness with levity as the set plunges us in and out from a dated wedding venue into a sort darkened subterranean No Man’s Land where the creativity happens.

It could all feel pretentious and with nowhere to go: but writer Sam Holcroft puts her themes into a compelling story, as dark and dystopian as it is full of comedic reprieve and the type of real conversations people actually have about the value of art when they come from different backgrounds. As much as it is about putting on a good play, it is about survival: Adem fights to be heard and it turns out the Minister, despite his privileges, is vulnerable too.

A Mirror is a vital examination of censorship in the 21st century. It’s a reminder that creative expression may be accepted here but in other nations, like Beirut, as playwright Lucien Bourjelly points out in the A Mirror programme, creatives risk their safety to put out art.

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