HOME, Manchester – until 15 March 2018
Guest reviewer: Daniel Shipman
Circle Mirror Transformation is an unsatisfying play. This may seem like a strange (and harsh) way to begin a four-star review, but it is the feeling of dissatisfaction which struck me hardest as I left HOME after the show. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy it – as indicated by the favourable rating, I did.
The whole cast puts in understated, beautiful performances which suit Annie Baker’s writing perfectly. I just wish that the play spent less time showing us the routine of the drama games and more time allowing us to inspect the wonderfully flawed, three-dimensional characters which inhabit its world. Watching the cast finally count to ten as a group (as they have been trying to do since the opening moments) doesn’t provide the sense of catharsis that the play deserves.
Taking place in a drama workshop in a community centre somewhere in Vermont, Baker’s play is a gentle look at human interaction. Run enthusiastically but poorly by Marty (Amelia Bullmore) the workshops are attended by four individuals, all of whom bring more than their fair share of emotional baggage to the sessions and proceed to have these rummaged through in a way that is not healthy in front of a group of relative strangers. It is a credit to the actors that, despite not truly liking any of the characters, I can say I wish I could spend more time in their company and learn more about what is making them tick.
As director, Bijan Sheibani ensures that the cast keeps the show moving in the right direction but retains all the awkwardness one would expect in a series of drama workshops in which the participants have never met before. Samal Blak’s set design cleverly utilises mirrors to combat the seated circles which are ubiquitous to drama groups but not very friendly to an end-on stage.
Circle Mirror Transformation is, despite its flaws, a pleasant night at the theatre made all the more enjoyable by this wonderful, sensitive production.