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THE HOUSE OF MIRRORS AND HEARTS – Arcola Theatre, London.

The House of Mirrors and HeartsThe House of Mirrors and Hearts is a melancholy, atmospheric quiet thriller of a musical exploring the strained relationships within a family shattered by tragedy. Eamonn O’Dwyer and Rob Gilbert explore the intricacies of a family in turmoil, invoking delicate emotions surrounding secrecy and words unspoken. In the first scene, a young Lily practices  ballet in the kitchen as her mother Anna explains what her father does for a living, making mirrors in the workshop attached to their house. A sweet tender moment, but then everything changes.

Seven years later, tension hangs over the house and chokes the inhabitants. They resolutely refuse to talk about what happened that day and so the accident overshadows everything they do.  Anna (Gillian Kirkpatrick) spends every day trying to numb the pain she feels at losing her husband with wine and pills, all the while showing only a passing interest in her two daughters who are trying to cope with their loss in very different but equally destructive ways. Lily (Molly McGuire), the younger daughter at 15, gets drunk and throws herself at guys, searching for the attention she desperately craves at home. Her elder sister Laura (Grace Rowe) locks herself away and timidly tiptoes around her mother, trying her best not to be noticed.

Things begin to change with the arrival of Nathan (Jamie Muscato), the new lodger who is studying the work of a long forgotten poet. As Nathan intrudes on the family dynamic, the audience intrude with him. As he tries to piece together what happened, and navigate the dangerously simmering tension within the house, we see the situation through his eyes. The mysterious David (Graham Bickley), watches over the household and gives him advice and Nathan’s presence slowly has a positive effect on the family, Laura most of all.

Ryan McBryde directs the seven strong cast imaginatively, and uses the full capacity of the multi-level set designed by David Woodhead. The characters are very much apart emotionally and this is reflected in their physical proximity within the confines of the house where all the action, bar one pivotal scene, takes place. Matt Haskins’ lighting design provides some ingenious moments to enhance the drama; a shard of broken mirror reflects light around the auditorium, the light from the fridge illuminates a character in anger.

The music itself provides an ethereal, provocative foundation for the complex story to unfold. Using the timely poetry and vivid imagery of shattered mirrors, the lyrics enhance the narrative. The songs are not merely slotted into place, but convey thoughts and feelings where dialogue could not. Stand out songs include the darkly comic ‘Something for the Pain’ in which Gillian Kirkpatrick commands the stage, and ‘Look at Me’, Molly McGuire’s chance to shine and show off her wonderful voice.

Past and present intertwine, Laura and Lily as children are interwoven into the scenes with their adult counterparts and it makes for a dramatic showdown at the climax of the piece when the truth that has been hidden for so long comes gushing out. It has to be said that the story is so detailed and characters so carefully woven that you see the plot twists coming a mile away, but somehow that doesn’t matter. The House of Mirrors and Hearts has an uneasy and voyeuristic quality throughout, a haunting and beautifully realised exploration of family and grief.

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Reviewed 07/07/2015

By Catherine Duffy
@cat_duffy

2nd July – 1st August 2015
Arcola Theatre, London  E8 3DL

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