Home Theatre, Manchester; Friday 9th March, 2018
Circle Mirror Transformation follows the exploits of an unlikely grouping of wannabe actors who come together in a small community centre to sharpen their performing skills. Following the lead of their drama teacher, the group undertake a series of exercises and role-plays but the result is more than just an acting lesson as individuals begin to reveal uncomfortable personal secrets and the group as a whole starts fracturing under the pressure of ever more awkward interactions.
Sticking with Pulitzer Prize winning writer Annie Baker’s original setting in Vermont, USA, the theme is strongly American, with thick accents being exhibited by all the performers. Somehow though it’s not just the voices that give an American feel to the show. There is a subtle hint of romantic comedy to the performance that gives the impression that it could have been crafted by a Hollywood producer. Furthermore, because the show is constructed of dozens of mini scenes that quickly follow on from one another the experience is akin to an epic TV series being delivered in instalments.
Circle Mirror Transformation is a refreshingly original play. The pace is very slow, and with a running time just short of two hours with no interval there is serious danger of boredom and indifference. But each mini scene delivers some new fact or feature about the characters on stage and the cumulative effect begins to build like random pieces of a jigsaw puzzle – incoherent and difficult at first but rapidly progressing to something satisfying and tangible towards the end.
The outstanding writing genius of Circle Mirror Transformation lies not in what it depicts on stage but more in what it doesn’t. There’s never enough detail to paint the full picture, there is so much reading between the lines that needs to be done and that means that the audience needs to get to know the characters being portrayed, to guess what they’re thinking and what they might do next. It delivers the same kind of suspense and intrigue as a murder mystery.
Circle Mirror Transformation is a rare theatrical achievement, long and slow-paced with no attempt at frills or glamour, and a relatively uneventful plot that does little more than portray a small group of random strangers on a six-week training course. Yet it works, the intrigue generated towards the end is sensational, this is a world-class piece of writing which generates a heady mix of the pleasures of book, screen, stage and jigsaw puzzle all combined.
|Visual pleasure||Played out entirely on a static set depicting a gymnasium / sports hall. The mirrors on the back wall meant that the audience was looking at itself as the show went on, adding a very unusual element of tension.||4|
|Auditory pleasure||A few moody musical effects in the background but otherwise perfectly fine, this show is all about the spoken words and the mood they’re conjuring.||2|
|Architecture & Theme||Holds a slow, gentle pace throughout. Takes a while to get going but by the end it the net result was to leave the mind boggling with possibilities as to how it would end.||5|
|Artistic delivery||Powerful performances from all five cast members, each delivering realistic characters without going over the top.||4|
|Overall impact||Nearly two hours without an interval and a very slow pace could have led to disaster. But this show works because the tension of the plot is wound up at a gradually increasing pace, leaving that tantalising sensation of wanting to know how it will end.||4|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|