A Mirror

A Mirror (Trafalgar Theatre, Feb 2024) is an immersive play exploring political theatre within oppressive regimes, drawing inspiration from the playwright’s holiday in North Korea. Our role in the (actual) audience was as a (fictional) audience attending an illegal performance in an unnamed “motherland”. The actors did an fantastic job with the material received; however, their impact was marred by a text riddled with cheap theatrical tactics to try to move and terrify the audience.

The play’s reliance on cliches, such as the power dynamics of the male boss flirting with his female subordinate and a predictable liaison between her and a dissident playwright, felt uninspired. Being charitable, perhaps these gendered dynamics are so common that they are drearily boring, and the play successfully captured that mundane quality. An early attempt at humour, at the expense of sex workers, added a distasteful note to the narrative, though drew hearty laughter throughout the theatre.

The pivotal immersive event, a police raid, while genuinely frightening, resorted to muscled actors donning cop uniforms and balaclavas, stomping around the theatre brandishing batons in a simulated show of authority. This stunt, seemingly intended to evoke gratitude for allowing plays like A Mirror and inspire political protest if this freedom were ever challenged, came across as the most contrived. It is trivial to scare an audience if you fill a theatre with muscly (actors playing) thugs and it worked – I walked two miles before getting the tube home rather than hop on at the station ten minutes away. I needed to walk off the fear and fury I felt. But my fury was at the playwright, director, and thug actor, rather than the State (actual or imagined).

While there was an underlying message about freedom and the complicity of even apparently progressive civil servants in State oppression, it struggled to resonate amid the self-indulgence of the production. Think Toast of London but emotionally violent, with all the self-awareness stripped out. I was left struggling to hear the potentially profound political message above the theatrics.