A Mirror at the Almeida Theatre | Theatre Review
For £10 – the cheapest theatre ticket I’ve ever bought in London – I got a great view, clever immersion and a great evening out at the new production A Mirror at the Almeida Theatre. It was a better seat than the £30+ ones in the stalls and Circle.
On a whim, I purchased my tickets to see this 2-hour production starring Jonny Lee Miller, Micheal Ward and Tanya Reynolds. Honestly, it was the best £10 I’ve spent this year.
I had no idea what this production entailed. Sam Holcroft is a new playwright for me and I’ve never been to the Almeida. But the reviews simply said it was a play within a play within a play, and I thought I was going to walk away with a headache and more questions than answers. Well, the latter is true, but the former was far from it. I could have stayed for another two hours and watched it again.
A Mirror by Sam Holcroft
This is a play about playwrights. Whilst that may seem like the beginning of an arrogant echo chamber production, it felt more complicated than that. Set in an unexplained world of censorship, war and a dictatorial society that sees the army as a compulsory stepping stone to adulthood, you get the sense immediately of the repression and fear that goes hand in hand with breathing.
The play opens with a wedding, cutesy and menacing all in one. Jonny Lee Miller prowls the seats as the audience steps in, occasionally directing people to their seats as if it were his actual job. There are whispers with the cello player and looks with the stagehands and other actors before finally we – the congregation and not the audience – are asked to rise from our seats as the bride enters.
Within minutes of starting the wedding, the scene changes with alarming noise and speed. Now we’re in the world of censorship and the groom (Micheal Ward) is now Adem, a (terrible) playwright, who only writes what he can with ‘a memory like a camera’. Mr Čelik (Jonny Lee Miller) runs the Ministry for Culture, powerful and manipulative. He gives off a pompous air that makes you wonder how many friends he had at school. The bride is now the nervous assistant, Mei (Tanya Reynolds) whose well-timed comedic responses and clever physicality offers relief in otherwise tense scenes.
Čelik wants to take Adem under his wing and correct the many infractions Adem ignorantly disregards for the sake of truth. Čelik has previously fostered great talents and sees Adem as the/his potential new star.
Repression, censorship, free speech and truth are all key parts of the play. Whilst it may appear dry on paper my mind never wandered. I was fully invested in the story and the performances.
Jonny Lee Miller parades the stage with the essence of a schoolboy breaking the rules. He’s a master of unsubtle menace, which he uses to hide his real character. A pompous authority figure, dictating the rules by which we all play. The recognisable boss with too much power. The senseless figure of authority we all know is wrong, and yet we follow blindly, too ignorant or afraid to attack the status quo.
The scenes between Čelik and Mei are particularly uncomfortable and yet enticing. I particularly enjoyed a blink-and-you-miss-it interaction between the two of them, involving a match, that I genuinely thought was unscripted. Until the end of the play. There are tidbits so throwaway within the production that you can’t believe they hold the plot together at the end.
Tanya Reynolds is known for her unique role in Sex Education. Yet in A Mirror she proves she has grit beneath her comedic exterior. She gives a raw performance, whilst also bringing the comedy, as she offers herself to the audience as a victim of men and the protector of truth.
Micheal Ward, a BAFTA Rising Star award recipient seemed oddly out of place at the beginning of the production. Especially under the weight of Jonny Lee Miller’s character. But by the end, it is clear he is playing a character, playing a character and his acting ability excels more than we see in those first few scenes. His character is a hapless yet intelligent man, unaware of his own intellect and yet at the same time, all too aware.
Final thoughts on A Mirror
This is a clever, unusual play pouring with intelligence like a physical production of Inception without the special effects. The audience is always aware that we’re watching more than one play. We occasionally had to jump out of our seats to pledge allegiance to the Motherland and even clap along to a Best Man’s speech/song.
For me, I was fully engrossed. Shocked by the violent and all-too-sudden ending, the shifting from play to wedding to play to panic to play again.
It was unforgettable and yet, I imagine, easily overlooked. Much like the character’s own production. You could never perform this outside of the small, cosy Almeida Theatre without breaking the essence of the show. It’s intimate and claustrophobic, the characters have to command you and you have to be involved.
A Mirror closes at the Almeida on the 23rd September 2023. It was superb.