Tag Archives: Samuel Adewunmi

“A Mirror” at the Trafalgar Theatre

Debates on aesthetics aren’t for all, but Sam Holcroft’s puzzle piece – a transfer from the Almeida Theatre – is an entertaining hit. The play is clever, self-consciously so, often funny and profound. If it lacks originality, a great production directed by Jeremy Herrin powers through to secure success.

In a generic dystopia (such set-ups often annoy me, but that’s a personal preference) we are gathered for the illicit performance of a play. It’s a good go at getting the audience involved and Herrin always does this well. And yes, it’s a play within a play. Specifically, about a young writer, Adem, whose work uses verbatim conversations and, since this regime isn’t keen on reality, is therefore dangerous. 

One of many twists is that our censor, named Čelik, is civilised. He wants to nurture talent and has already done so with a national treasure, another writer brought in for a very funny workshop scene. But the result of that reading is a play based on the scene we’ve just seen. So, I guess, it’s a play within a play within a play, that we’re watching.

There’s a love triangle, too. Which feels a bit of a distraction, although it makes a strong role for Tanya Reynolds stuck between the two men. Maybe the point is how messy art can get (although I doubt a ruthless regime would care about #MeToo moments). It’s a shame you can see a final twist coming from way off. Or maybe Holcroft is being generous – allowing us to feel as clever as she is.

It might all be thought a lot just to ask if plays should be a mirror of reality rather than escapism or inspiration. Such questions are hardly new. Nor are ideas about how politically dangerous plays might be. But, and it’s a big but, the ideas are given urgency and dramatic tension. Considering the strong plotting, structure and characters – basically, the mechanics of writing a play – Holcroft comes close to being impervious to criticism.

It should be stressed that the performances help. Jonny Lee Miller takes the part of the censor with a sense of mischief that is wholly appropriate. He can be scary, but also vulnerable. Samuel Adewunmi and Reynolds have nice lines in naivety – when it’s appropriate. Don’t forget, when everyone first appears it is as an actor. That another identity is revealed makes for layered performances that are easy to enjoy and admire.

A problem remains. For all the script’s smarts, and a strong production, there’s a sense that we’ve seen a lot of this before. Playwrights like writing about plays. Even the concern that an audience doesn’t want revolt but, rather, a gin and tonic (good line) has been pointed out. The game is played well. A Mirror is a great night out. But is that a judgement on how any effort to be serious is pointless? Let’s hope not.

Until 20 April 2024


“Trouble in Butetown” at the Donmar Warehouse

Focusing on an African American soldier and a mixed race family in Cardiff provides a new take on World War II in Diana Nneka Atuona’s new play. Behind this interesting story, the piece is a traditional affair – well-crafted and carefully observed – that is a tidy drama and a gorgeous love story.

GI Nate is on the run, providing excitement, and it’s no plot spoiler to say he is the victim of prejudice. But what’s important is what he runs into: a boarding house with no colour bar and a romance with young Connie. The roles make impressive stage debuts for Samuel Adewunmi and Rita Bernard-Shaw with characters whose instant attraction and innocent courtship is sweet. 

The play is full of heart-warming relationships that centre around Connie’s mother, a powerful matriarch, performed by Sarah Parish with consummate skill. As funny as she is formidable, and ferociously protective of her daughters, she is a sympathetic figure. How hard it must be to raise two mixed race children at the time is never overstated, a powerful move on Atuona’s part.

Along with her younger daughter and lodgers, who are all satisfying characters, this little idyll is under threat from the American Military Police. There are big debates here with plenty of perspectives. And maybe some caricatures (the Police seem dull next to characters we’ve come to admire). Importantly, Nate’s actions aren’t glossed over.

There is a lot of action – a director less skilled than Tinuke Craig could make a mess – that builds nicely. The second act provides more nuance in each character, more intergenerational conflict and a realistic yet inspiring finale. Random acts of kindness and cruelty that are deftly handled make the piece involving and interesting throughout. Excellent work all-round.

Until 25 March 2023


Photo by Manuel Harlan