The House Of Mirrors And Hearts
8 July 2015
It’s a real thrill walking into a theatre to see a musical you know nothing about. It’s an even bigger thrill when you know that some amazing talent has been recruited to appear in said musical. So I hoped that I was in for a treat when I paid a visit to The House Of Mirrors and Hearts which has just opened at the Arcola Theatre. With Music, Lyrics and Book by Eamonn O’Dwyer and Book by Rob Gilbert this is a new British musical that has been supported in its development by Perfect Pitch.
A family is traumatised and emotionally left bereft when a tragic accident kills Anna’s husband, Lily and Laura’s father. The loss is huge, and continues to have an effect on the family many years later, with Anna hiding her pain in drink and her two girls leading a wayward existence in a world of secrets and lies.
Into this world stumbles a new lodger, Nathan, who is studying and curating the works of a forgotten poet. Nathan’s arrival provides a catalyst that creates tensions that ultimately build until their world is on the brink of shattering once and for all.
To tell you more than that would be to provide spoilers for this cleverly constructed psychological drama, and like a well-honed mystery, part of the delight with this show is allowing the drama to unfold without the foresight of plot knowledge.
The House Of Mirrors and Hearts, is an intense family drama, and it benefits greatly from the intimate space of the Arcola Theatre. Director Ryan McBride keeps the action fluid, cast appear and disappear as any family in a large house would as they go about their days. You can’t help but get a feeling of voyeurism as you watch this family in what seems like a spiral towards ultimate self-destruction.
Gillian Kirkpatrick plays Anna, a bereft mother and wife. She has collapsed into a mire of drink and unhappiness; suspicious and wary of her own daughters. It’s a stark contrast to the Anna at the start of the show and the comparison is harrowing. This is a powerhouse performance that is perfectly encapsulated in the comic catastrophe Something For The Pain. Anna’s relationship with her daughter is the backbone of this musical and Kirkpatrick is a stern matriarch even in her lowest moments. It’s a haunting performance that makes her moment of realisation in Act Two as powerful a moment as you could wish for.
Grace Rowe (Laura) and Molly McGuire (Lily) are Anna’s daughters. As with many siblings they are different
people. Laura is introspective and quiet, a gentle soul, following her close quarters experience of her father’s death, whilst Lily is far too knowing for her years, a brash, sexual and emotionally bruised soul that puts up a wall to hide her pain. The number leading to the climax of Act One perfectly showcase both the strengths of these fine performers but also cement their characters before the dramatic turns in Act Two.
Graham Bickley plays David, a enigmatic lodger who provides guidance to Nathan and makes him see that there is more to this family than meets the eye. Bickley’s is an assured presence and his presence on stage is so precisely measured, that as an audience member you are forced to savour those moments. In Little Bird and The Colour Of Death, his vocals with the daughters are just delightful, leaving you wanting more.
Jamie Muscato plays Nathan, the somewhat nerdy, awkward young scholar who tries to find connections where perhaps none exist in the work of a distant ancestor. Nathan is the catalyst for much of the action in the house and Muscato’s gentle and intelligent treatment of the material makes Nathan an intriguing character. He is the missing link, the character who stabilises the wonky family dynamic and restores it to a level footing. Muscato is a musical theatre superstar in the making – no doubt about it.
As Young Lily and Young Laura, Isabelle Doherty and Ella Doherty are delightful, weaving past memories amongst modern happenings, eerily haunting the present with slivers of the past.
Set and Costume Designer David Woodhead has created an incredible multi-layered house for Anna and her family to inhabit. So many little details are attended to, whether it be the multiple empty wine bottles that you come to realise inhabit the nook and crannies of this set or the collaboration with lighting designer Matt Haskins which allows incredible use of reflected light.
Musical Director David Randall and his mini orchestra of two with arrangements by Jo Cichonska, provide a tight backing for the drama in this dysfunctional house. From rich and melodic to sharp and angular, it’s a soundscape that works in harmony with the on stage action.
Despite my love of the material there is no doubt that the show itself still needs a bit more work. Polishing this diamond in the rough should release even more emotional intensity. I found odd moments in the choral action didn’t quite work and seemed a bit dischordant. Tightening up the opening of the show should also help the show take flight a little earlier.
That said, the future of British musicals seems assured. It’s wonderful to see a musical that eschews a jukebox or movie mentality and goes instead for an original story.
If you are a fan of musicals like Next To Normal, then The House Of Mirrors and Hearts is going to appeal. It’s a dark, psychological and kept suprising me throughout.