Seven years have passed since the lives of the Keane family were shattered by an unexpected death. Existing in a fractured state where daughters are either cloistered or uncontrollable and mothers drink wine for breakfast, it is only when a new lodger comes to stay that the family are forced to confront the truths that they have tried so hard to suppress.
David Woodhead’s set was one of the best that we have seen at the Arcola, making the most out of the theatre’s unusually shaped main studio. The chamber orchestra, barely visible through the staircase that dominated the space, were never obtrusive to the action – at times we even forgot they were there, allowing us to fully immerse ourselves in the broken home to which we were witness.
The mirrors of the title, though many of them adorned the back of the stage, were an underused resource, both physically and figuratively. Much was made in the play’s opening of the father’s occupation as a maker of bespoke mirrors, yet this was not a consistent enough motif throughout the play for it to justify this introduction. We can’t help but feel that more could have been made of the outsider forcing a family to look back in on itself, or that the lack of privacy in the crowded household could have been compounded by the constant scrutiny of one’s own reflection.
Eamonn O'Dwyer’s score was where the mirroring theme really shone through, yet this subtle manipulation of chords and motifs was not always backed up by the action of the play.
At times in this production, however, it was not a lack of subtlety but a want of it that was problematic. A veteran of the musical theatre stage, Gillian Kirckpatrick in the lead role of Anna was superb; with her voice almost flawless voice and strong emotive capabilities, she is a strong enough actor for us to believe her descent into alcoholism without the need for her to be carrying a bottle at all times (although her ode to alcohol ‘Something for the Pain’ was one of the highlights of the show). Mention should also go to Jamie Muscato as bookish lodger Nathan whose naturalistic manner served the setting perfectly.
Initially, we weren’t sure what to expect from this billed ‘chamber musical’ but as a format it was a revelation, with the intimate staging allowing the production to use musical theatre to portray genuine emotional intensity and nuance, the lack of which are often the criticisms levelled at the conventional genre. As Nathan’s favourite poet writes ‘there is beauty in the breaking of things’.
|What||Heart of Mirrors and Hearts, Arcola Theatre|
24 Ashwin Street , London, E8 3DL | MAP
|Nearest tube||Highbury & Islington (underground)|
02 Jul 15 – 01 Aug 15, 7:30 PM – 9:00 PM
|Price||£10 - £20|
|Website||Click here to book via the Arcola Theatre|