Thursday, September 21

A Mirror – Almeida Theatre

‘This Play is a Lie’ is the perfect way to describe Sam Holcroft’s bold new play. Directed by Jeremy Herrin, A Mirror explores censorship, free speech and what it means to be an author and artist in an Orwellian world.

The foyer is decked out in pastel-hued balloons, fairy lights, and a disco ball to look like a wedding reception. Upon entering the theatre, the actors were milling around the stage like wedding guests and we are asked to stand for the bride as she makes her entrance. All the little details point to an ordinary marriage ceremony until you glance at the Order of Service placed on each chair, with a slightly sinister Oath of Allegiance on the back page. It is then revealed that the wedding is merely a cover, as soon as the uniformed guards are away, the flowers are quickly put away and it’s clear that we are watching an unlicensed play.

The play within a play within a play, follows Adem (Michael War), a mechanic-turned-playwright who has been pulled into the office of Čelik, the Director of the Ministry of Culture to discuss the play he submitted for government approval. Adem has a remarkable, almost photographic memory. His play The Ninth Floor, is a verbatim account of overheard conversations from his neighbours in his tower block and is flagged by the ministry. 

Johnny Lee Miller shines as Čelik, who urges Adem to channel his creativity into an inspirational story that would better suit the state’s propaganda narrative. Miller plays the hypocrisy of Čelik extremely well, particularly when he is showing his new assistant Mei, the banned works of Shakespeare while upholding the regime’s censorship. These scenes were reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale, when the Commander, who represents the regime, plays Scrabble with his handmaid Offred, an act punishable by death. 

The play is like a house of mirrors, with Adem mirroring his conversations with Čelik in his writing, highlighting the cracks in his character, branding himself as a mentor nurturing creativity whilst encouraging authors to write state-approved narratives. Čelik sees great art as an escape from reality as opposed to mirroring the grim truths of their totalitarian reality.

Mei is artfully played by Tanya Reynolds, from her hilarious reactions to Čelik’s ridiculousness to sight-reading Adem’s work, she is a comedic wonder. Mei’s character certainly has the most progression too, from complicit follower to questioning the world around her. Geoffrey Streatfeild was an enjoyable watch as Bax, the egotistical playwright struggling to repeat his initial success from conforming to the regime which has forced him to turn to drink. Bax represents the untouchable artist while Čelik represents a gatekeeper to the arts.   

‘A Mirror’ which in this context, represents a fearless truthteller who mirrors society in their work, is a perfect way to describe this play within a play within a play, nothing is quite what it seems. The main action is often interrupted by the characters playing lookout and desperately clearing the stage as the threat of being raided at any moment hangs in the air.

The story builds to a dramatic and inevitable climax, with a few twists along the way, earning a few gasps from the audience.

Multifaceted and masterful, A Mirror explores how totalitarian regimes impact creativity, while also pointing a mirror towards censorship, particularly in the arts, with plenty of wit and quips along the way.

A Mirror is playing at the Almeida Theatre until 23rd September 2023. You can find out more here:

Reviewer: Gemma Prince

Reviewed: 24th August 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.