A Mirror review – Trafalgar Theatre, London ★★★★☆

Photo: Marc Brenner

The Almeida find themselves with another West End transfer with the opening of Sam Holcroft’s A Mirror, directed by Jeremy Herrin. It’s the theatre’s third transfer since mid-2022, following on from Patriots and A Streetcar Named Desire. We may yet see the Broadway-bound musical Tammy Faye joining them, and The Tragedy of Macbeth, featuring Saoirse Ronan should have made the journey South from Angel (the only reason it didn’t was surely due to scheduling conflicts).

The challenge with A Mirror is how to describe it. There are some plays that, when the moment comes to write the review, you end up in a quandary, conflicted by how much you should ‘give away’ about the plot and themes. ‘This play is a lie’ the tagline runs: those who want to avoid any of the truth may want to stop reading here – those who want to find out only a taster of the truth may continue. It feels like there is no way to describe it without at least a few minor spoilers (which the production images give away, in any regard).

Photo: Marc Brenner

In the second theatrical nuptials of the week in London, after the opening of Till the Stars Come Down yesterday, it is the wedding of Leyla and Joel at Vorbak Memorial Hall, and we are the congregation, invited to join them for the festivities, including reciting the Oath of Allegiance to the Motherland at the beginning of the ceremony – except, this is no wedding; it’s a cover for an unlicensed performance of a play by a renegade playwright.

The play-within-a-play, which itself has plays within it (lovers of Inception may enjoy the idea of a play-within-a-play-within-a-play-within-a-fake-wedding), finds budding playwright Adem (Samuel Adewunmi) meeting with the director of this totalitarian state’s Culture department, the black-glove-clad Čelik (Jonny Lee Miller), about the verbatim script he has submitted for approval but which contains hundreds of illegal infringements against the State. Čelik, seeing the potential in the young playwright’s writing, sends him off to write something more acceptable, and brings together his aid Mei (Tanya Reynolds) and the lauded State playwright Bax (Geoffrey Streatfeild) to workshop it.

Photo: Marc Brenner

To see Jonny Lee Miller back on stage (A Mirror is his first London play since 2011’s Frankenstein at the National) is a delight – he is incredibly watchable, embodying the mantra that ‘acting is about reacting:’ he subtly squirms, fidgets and twitches his way through scenes. He is nearly matched by the rest of the strong ensemble cast, with Reynolds, Adewunmi and Streatfeild all pitch-perfect. Miriam Wakeling soundtracks the entire piece, adding a cinematic quality, particularly in the play’s more brooding moments where her strings add a plaintive screech or an ominous beat as she turns her cello into a percussion instrument.

Holcroft’s satire is so on the nose there will be many in the arts nursing black eyes. In a week where the Globe Theatre has defended its casting of its artistic director Michelle Terry in the role of the disabled character Richard III, Čelik’s suggestion that real life is too challenging and must be filtered to make it palatable and uplifting to the masses might seem less like satire and more like reality. Having said too much already, all that’s left to say is that A Mirror doesn’t just feel topical – it feels urgent, it feels necessary.

A Mirror is at Trafalgar Theatre until 20 April 2024