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Manchester theatre reviews

Circle Mirror Transformation

Circle Mirror Transformation at HOME

By Annie Baker, Directed by Bijan Sheibani

Reviewed by Johanna Hassouna-Smith, March 2018

 

HOME is currently presenting Annie Baker’s Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece of modern naturalism, Circle Mirror Transformation. Set in a community Centre in Vermont, the play centres around five characters who undertake a 6 week series of Drama classes and features an all-star cast of television and stage performers.

 

Director Bijan Sheibani has a prolific list of previous productions including The National Theatre and the Young Vic, so it comes as no surprise that this production holds such artistic acclaim.

 

With such beautifully executed dialogue, characterisation and relationships, it is no wonder that Walter Meierjohann, the artistic director of HOME, described writer Annie Baker as ‘the Chekhov of our times’. Her writing is stunning and brings us a purist form of modern day naturalism. However, with Chekhov we see a world which we are separated from in both class and era, but with contemporary work such as this, we really do feel we are watching through that fourth wall. She writes so delicately about these characters and transforms what we understand about them through barely perceptible shifts in their interactions.

 

The framing device of a drama class allows for much of our discovery to emerge through drama exercises that border on being group-therapy. Whilst you learn about their pain, suffering and anxieties, it never feels self-obsessed because their angst is revealed through the characters’ attempts to improvise scenes.

 

Circle Mirror Transformation

The actors were what really made this performance such a joy to watch. For me, Yasmin Paige stood out as Lauren the awkward teen and youngest member of the class, whose increasing confidence is excellently portrayed, particularly in the final poignant scene with Schultz, charmingly played by Con O’Neill. Being the youngest of the group, she represents hope for the future after the workshops, which may not be shared by those older classmates. Paige’s silent reactions to others on stage were often the punchline to comic moments in the first half.

 

Another standout performer was Anthony Ofoegbu. His portrayal of James, was also darkly comedic with his repressed artistic temperament and underlying lust for Marty (played by Amelia Bullmore). Ofoegbu’s voice, so often powerful (projecting in his previous credits with the RSC), was so tender and understated in this role, I found him to be mesmerising on stage.

 

Credit must go to Anna Cooper whose casting of this show is excellent. A lot of marketing went out about Circle Mirror Transformation advertising the TV and stage credits of these performers and although this gets the punters in, what keeps them engaged for the 1 hour 45 minutes (with no interval) is the perfectly pitched portrayal of the characters whom I believed in so completely.

 

The naturalistic stage design is perfect. From the lowered ceiling of the community centre to the 9 strip lights which so cleverly frame the episodic structure of the piece, I really felt like we were eavesdropping on their drama workshops. That said, with each workshop divided into episodic vignettes, one minor criticism of the play would be that these were punctuated by blackouts which often interrupted character revelations during exercises in the class, and abruptly brought scenes to a close.

 

As the play develops, tantalising glimpses are offered into what lies beneath the surface of these characters, but none of their backgrounds, or the subjects raised, are explored with any depth. This is obviously the point, but somewhat unsatisfying as the house lights go up.


 

Circle, Mirror, Transformation runs until Saturday 17th March 2018.

 
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