‘The House of Mirrors and Hearts’ at The Arcola
It’s WELL cool to see people’s creative endeavours flourish and succeed. This new home-grown, British chamber musical first appeared on my radar back at the Edinburgh Festival in 2008. Since those humble beginnings, it’s been drafted, re-worked, workshopped and now appears in a lovely big two-act version at the Arcola Theatre.
And there’s TONNES to celebrate here. The story is as jagged as the broken mirror shards that provide such a crucial plot point so early on. David (Graham Bickley), a mirror-maker, husband and father dies during the opening moments of the show, leaving two young daughters and his wife Anna (Gillian Kirkpatrick), who finds her best comfort at the bottom of a wine bottle. Fast-forward a few years and we see Anna still hitting the merlot hard, struggling to find ways to communicate with her chalk-and-cheese daughters- the man-eating, sexually voracious Lily (Molly Maguire) and quiet, intense Laura (Grace Rowe) who keeps her secrets close to her chest.
Into their midst, arrives their new lodger Nathan (Jamie Muscato) who quickly learns of the communicative strains of the family and begins to unwrap and reveal the true story of what really happened to David. DRAMA ENSUES.
I MEAN IT’S NOT EXACTLY A LIGHT AND FROTHY SUMMER MUSICAL. On the contrary, the book (by Rob Gilbert) is dark and twisted, with fantastic weaving, beautifully textured melodies by Eamonn O’Dwyer (beautifully orchestrated by Joanna Cichonska). The voices are all fantastic (particularly Molly Maguire HIYA YOUR BELT IS GREAT BABE), and there’s a couple of stand-out numbers, Anna’s pacy love song to her beloved red wine bursts with energy and I pretty much fell head over heels in love with Jamie Muscato as he sang his rapturous poetry-inspired love song to Laura. IT WAS GORGEOUS AND I MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE HAD A TWINKLE TINGLE/MINGE TWINGE/FANNY GALLOP OF LUST (p.s sorry for saying minge twinge and fanny gallop).
Even though the drama is punchy and hits the audience with real impact under the direction of Ryan McBryde’s the pace of the show occasionally drags slightly, and the plot is ever-so-slightly predictable. I’d have liked a few more moments of light relief, as the unrelenting angst occasionally made me feel a bit WOAH OKAY I’M EXHAUSTED BY ALL THIS FEELING but I can totally see why the reviews have been overwhelming positive.
How refreshing to see some GOOD PROPER WELL-WRITTEN BRITISH MUSICAL THEATRE. It’s so rare to see this invested in, and busy at the theatre that we should support, nurture and show it some love when we see it. So DO pop down to the Arcola before it finishes on August 1st, it’s really fucking cool down there and they serve craft beer, so you know, DOUBLE WIN! For more information and tickets, visit the website here!
All production photography by that huge babe Darren Bell