Arts Theatre, London WC2
Opened 25 May, 2004

First things first: that odd title. It’s “funny mirrors”, as imperfectly pronounced by a person who has been left with speech problems by a stroke.  In many ways, David Lindsay-Abaire’s play works like the fairground hall of mirrors being described there: are the distorted grotesques which we see comical, unsettling or both at once?  The play begins as a black comedy, but moves into much more intriguing areas.

Claire wakes up one morning with no idea where she is, or even who she is. This has been going on for two years: she suffers from a form of amnesia that wipes her mind clean every night.  On this day, however, no sooner has hubby left the room than a masked man kidnaps her. He says he’s her brother, and is saving her from the other chap.  They end up in a shack in the middle of nowhere with a cast of prime oddballs.

For also involved are Claire’s mother (who’s had that stroke and can hardly be understood), her stoner son, a timid woman cop and a failed criminal who plays second fiddle to a glove puppet.  Lock them all up together and wackiness can reasonably be expected to ensue.  The twist is that what we actually get in Act Two is not just a 21st-century retread of Arsenic And Old Lace, but a far more subtle chain of revelations.

Claire’s memory loss makes this not just a whodunnit but a whodunnwot. The audience gets to see through her eyes as together, bit by bit, she and we learn the truth about the characters, their histories and real relationships.  Ultimately, even Claire herself turns out to have a less than spotless past.  The laughs have toned down by now, but we hardly notice. To tell the truth, they were often a little forced anyway.

Katie Finneran is engaging as Claire, with Julia McKenzie skilfully handling her mother’s speech problem and Matthew “Shaggy” Lillard as the puppet guy.  Lindsay-Abaire’s 1999 off-Broadway hit gets its London premiere as the first show from theatre and film director Sam Mendes’ new production company, Scamp.  If Mendes’ outfit offers further wares that are as enjoyably thoughtful as this, we have a lot to look forward to.

Written for Teletext.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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