The Mirror Never Lies, a new musical set in 1960’s London, follows Leonora, a vain woman who loves high culture and “beautiful things.” She becomes infatuated with James, a younger man who prefers to spend his time with people closer to his own age, and particularly his own gender. With so many people vying for James’ attention, he finds himself becoming merely a “beautiful thing” in the eyes of his suitors. The story becomes an insightful look at sex and love, and how people with exterior beauty become objectified by their lovers.
The book, adapted by Joe Giuffre from Barbara Pym’s novel The Sweet Dove Died, is well-constructed, and communicates the story’s themes and message with a delicate hand. The central characters are sympathetic despite their flaws, allowing the audience to engage with their struggles. Francesca Ellis, as Leonora, anchors the show with her sharp wit and nuanced emotional journey. The supporting characters, however, feel almost uniformly underdeveloped, wasting the talents of their capable actors.
The production, which was also directed by Giuffre, feels unfortunately thin. Even in the intimate Cockpit Theatre, the actors sometimes seem to be drowning in all the empty space onstage. The transitions included stock video footage of London in the 60s, which was distracting and somewhat tacky. The footage seemed to be there solely to remind us that we were indeed in the 1960s, since little else helped to establish that fact. The lighting was minimal, the set was non-existent, and only some generic black chairs were used for furniture. The costumes were a bit more effective, giving us some more help in nailing down the period and understanding the characters. It’s disappointing to see that there are no lighting, set, or costume designers listed in the program. I’m not without sympathy for the show’s creators, who funded this production through Indiegogo with a meager budget. I fully acknowledge that producing new theatre is often a game of sacrifices, and perhaps, when it comes down to it, a set should be the first thing to be sacrificed. Scenery and props can be imagined, after all, whereas lighting and sound amplification cannot. However, the lack of design did, unfortunately, harm the storytelling, in that it sapped much of the life and specificity out of the show.
In some ways, basing musicals on novels makes more sense than basing them on stories of other mediums. In-depth explorations of character and emotion lend themselves well to both mediums, allowing them to act as windows into the characters’ consciousnesses. The Mirror Never Lies, however, doesn’t use the score to its advantage nearly as much as it could. The songs, with lyrics also written by Giuffre, serve only to develop the characters and their thoughts on the most superficial level, and only minimally progress the plot. Consequently, the book ends up doing most of the storytelling work. Relatedly, the show struggles with a divided sense of tone as a result of Juan Iglesias’s music. The book has a very mellow, subdued feel to it, fitting the story well. The songs, however, tend to be more high-energy. The score is catchy and well-written in its own rite, but it simply doesn’t fit in with the feel of the rest of the show. For any story being adapted into a musical, the songs must be written with a purpose to serve the storytelling. Unfortunately, in this piece, that purpose is very unclear.
By Joe Weinberg