A Mirror, Trafalgar Theatre, 2024
Photo: Marc Brenner
  • Theatre, Drama
  • Recommended


A Mirror

4 out of 5 stars

Sam Holcroft’s brilliant Jonny Lee Miller-starring censorship satire effortlessly leaps into the West End


Time Out says

Here are two things that theatre can do really badly: plays about plays, and plays about the importance of plays. Somehow Sam Holcroft has managed to write a play-within-a-play-about-a-play-within-a-play-about-a-play that tackles the importance of theatre while being un-self-important and actually very funny, and also a structural marvel.
Originally at the Almeida, now transferring to the Trafalgar Theatre, it starts by telling us we’re at a wedding (spoiler: we’re not) and then tells us we’re in a play (spoiler: we are) and then keeps peeling back layers and pulling rugs until you start questioning who you actually and what your role is in all this.
We’re in a community hall – fittingly a proscenium arch within a proscenium arch in Max Jones’s brilliantly drab design – in an unspecified country, vaguely Balkan, post-Communisty, where there’s a ministry for culture which vets and censors new plays. Car mechanic Adem submits his work, a verbatim piece about his neighbours, who swear and drink and have sex. Although deputy culture minister Čelik can’t approve of the nasty bits, he sees something promising in Aden and takes him under his wing.
The big questions Holcroft examines are what plays should be about - inspiration, escapism, nice stuff like that - or should they be more of (yes) a mirror of the world we actually live in, which often isn’t very nice. Director Jeremy Herrin brings humour to the fore in this production, especially in the moments whenČelik, Adem and others enact scenes using office furniture, turning this into both a comedy and a sharp bit of political writing.
He gets some great performances out of the cast, too, who are having to do that tricky thing of acting as actors. Jonny Lee Miller excels asČelik, pompous and powerful, imbuing his self-important apparatchik with an endearingly boyish enthusiasm for theatre and acting. He plays it like a conjurer or a clown, his arms gesturing, hands twirling, like he might pull a rabbit at any moment. Tanya Reynolds is a wonderfully stiff and awkward junior civil servant who finds her own power as the play progresses.

There might have been a less funny version of this play which might more acutely prick the bubble of safety we feel in a West End theatre in a country where the Lord Chamberlain’s censorship powers were abolished 56 years ago; in a more repressive country this play might genuinely feel quite dangerous.

But even so, there’s no denying the dazzling structural precision of Holcroft’s writing, as well as the lightness of touch she brings even as she forces us to reckon with the point of us sitting here in the theatre enjoying a play.


£18-£65. Runs 2hr (no interval)
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