Friday, 6 April 2018

Killing us softly… Mirrors by Siobhan McMillan, Leicester Square Theatre

At one point, Siobhan McMillan tells her director, Gabi Maddocks, to budge up so she can sit on her chair and take a break, we’re not sure if it’s Siobhan or Shivvers, Penelope, Madison, Shy Girl or any one of the characters her physical, exhausting and emotionally pounding performance has evoked. Mirrors is a many-layered tale that blows the fourth wall and hits the audience right where it hurts – audacious, deadly accurate and disabling; she’s very funny.
This is eyeball-to-eyeball theatre and Siobhan carries it off with humility, honesty and tremendous charm; the confessional of a woman on the verge who isn’t afraid to leap over the barricades with seemingly innocent non-sequiturs that cunningly reveal themselves as all part of a multi-layered and tightly wrought script – one lean, meaning machine.

It’s also a challenge to absolutely switch off the male gaze and engage. This is not a play written for either sex – we’re all in it together – and whilst my wife laughed with recognition at truths acknowledged in close-quarters, I also got the point being a little bit Jim, Shaun the brutal “life-coach” and even Mickey. Mirrors is ultimately about kindness and that’s no fairy tale fantasy.

The story begins with Shy Girl, a video blogger telling all to her eight new subscribers and revealing a soft centre used and abused by Mikey, her boyfriend of six and a half weeks who would have character failings if only he had a character. Mikey is a dead end of a sexual partner and a dead loss as a boy-friend, standing his girl up in front of her audience.

Siobhan McMillan, all photo by Thomas Ashton
There follows a descent into the furthest regions of Shy Girl’s imagination and self esteem led by Shivvers, ultra-confident, competitive and out to kill any rivals to her beauty and power. This “witchy primary character” has grown since the play’s first iteration and is now even more primary: the aggression of desperation we all feel once we start – as both Shiobhan and LCD Soundsystem say – “losing our edge…”

As with other witches in unrelated fairy tales, Shivvers has a mirror and a man inside it (say hello to Jim) to provide positive reinforcement and advance early warning of breaking new beauty. Shivvers time comes and she is shocked to the core. She won’t take this lying down and goes off in search of the new sexual superpower in order to drain her essence and just bloomin’ well kill her to death.

She spies an impossibly pretty lass singing along with birds, bees and all the cute animals – she’s as perfect as Amy Adams in Enchanted and enough to make our bad witch vomit. Shivvers lies down in the forest with her own creatures – worms, frogs, cockroaches… waiting to strike at Bitch Face. But all is not as it seems after darkness falls and Shivvers sees her foe eating four “human males”, toes first and all the way through guts and garters to their hearts… it’s a measure of Siobhan’s expression that she is able to describe this process with a mixture of revulsion and admiration – and much more besides… it’s certainly not something I’ll be forgetting in a hurry and I’m avoiding the woods from now on.

This is the beauty of Mirrors, the meaning is smuggled in under the stories and even as you’re trying to work out what just happened we’re already in another world, the huge house of perfect Penelope who throws her impossible beauty away with an overdose of neurosis and then a self-help group, Chips and Dips Anonymous, where over compensatory crisp consumption is a problem doubled through sharing.

Siobhan McMillan, photo Thomas Ashton
It’s a story of Siobhan through Shy Girl as Shivvers… and the fairy tale filter allows the unveiling of universal truths of societal pressures: what are we to do when we are no longer “perfect”? You can’t kill all the competition and maybe the main thing is acceptance? As “Shaun” says if you have low self-esteem it could be because of a deep-rooted psychological trauma in your childhood so… get used to it!!

Mirrors is a special play and Siobhan McMillan is clearly a special performer – her movement is exceptional as is her physical expression – creating an old hag through mime (you can take the girl out of RADA but…) like Lindsay Kemp in a black dress or Kate Bush on the moor. She uses every inch of the Theatre Lounge’s tight spaces to express herself and to pull us in.

That’s brave and, as it happens, that’s entertainment. I would love to watch this play all over again and urge you not to miss it.

Mirrors runs until 14th April so please get a move on!!

Ithankyou Theatre rating: ***** They talk of immersive… but this is a very personal theatrical conversation! We loved it!

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