Cockpit Theatre, London – until 18 November 2016
“Sometimes being subtle doesn’t have the desired effect”… ‘Mirror mirror on the wall’, ‘the mirror crack’d from side to side’, ‘it’s like you’re my mirror’, there’s many a mirror that has gone down in fame but in its current form, new musical The Mirror Never Lies doesn’t look set to join them. Based on the Barbara Pym novel The Sweet Dove Died and a clear labour of love for bookwriter, lyricist and director Joseph – with music by Juan Iglesias – it is ill-served by this flimsy production.
The plot certainly has potential. Set in the swinging Sixties of Carnaby Street, girl-about-town Leonora is struggling to come to terms with the realities of middle age. When handsome young university student James drops into her life, she sets herself to making him hers, but she has stiff competition first in fellow student Phoebe and then in lascivious American Ned who brings out James’ bisexual side.
Then there’s James’ Uncle Humphrey – Leonora’s contemporary – who has set his eye on her and whose attentions she has to constantly bat away, despite him being more conventionally ‘suitable’. But there’s far too little narrative tension, scant characterisation to make us care or humour to make us laugh, and songs that fail to make the most of the period influence or offer any lyrical depth – put simply, the show never makes the case for why it should be a musical.
Part of the problem lies in the way the space of the Cockpit has been used. Stretched across a wide space and going up into the balcony too (ill-advisedly, since people on that side miss out entirely on what happening above them) fatally exposes the bare bones (the set consists of about 8 office chairs arranged in three groups), where using a staged or semi-staged format would have been entirely more suitable for this fledgling work.
There are bright spots – Francesca Ellis’ brittle Leonora has a belter of a final number with the title track and from there, a more vivaciously engaging take on the character could be reverse-engineered. And Spencer O’Brien (who I saw do great stuff in Ghost as an understudy) nails his horny Yank with a wonderfully flirtatious performance, a rare moment of real theatre. But this is a production where the majority of one song gets sung off-stage to people sat round a dinner table on-stage because…well who knows, the mirror never lies.
Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)Booking until 18th November