MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2023
Photo courtesy of Replay Theatre Company
The title of Patrick J O'Reilly's Mirrorball, a Replay Theatre Company production directed by Janice Kernoghan-Reid, is one word, but it could really be two. It works as a mirror to pride, power and prejudice, and a ball for expression, eclectism and emotion. One reflects and the other spins, combining to form the complications of not just one but multiple life cycles for viewers' hearts and minds to take in, all within and around the character of Matthew Cavan and his alter ego Cherrie On Top, whose life story has been partially adapted for this hugely entertaining UK Theatre Award nominee.
I was already highly impressed, and outright moved, by Mirrorball when I caught it initially at the Young At Art Belfast Children's Festival this year. Such is the overall language, flow and thematic depth of the piece. What I wasn't prepared for on this occasion was the more operatic and epic slant which Replay, Kernoghan-Reid and her company have applied to the production, along with a slight change in casting - the changes may be minor, but the encouragement for greater innovation and expression is enormous. That opportunity is taken fully to ensure that the Lyric audience is, once again, both energised and mesmerised.
Mirrorball is, above all, a work of utter purity, a story about the drive for purpose dominated by the search for and maintenance of identity and stability in several instances. This rests primarily on the shoulders of Cherrie, the alter ego of Matt (Matthew Cavan), and how important his drag persona is in injecting both light and life into both the show and his well-being through two exceptionally well written and performed Garth McConaghie musical numbers. The spark is dulled and threatened to be extinguished by the all-too-literally-electric intervention of the Narrowminders, Nigel (Jack Watson) and Maureen (Colette Lennon Dougal), probably named so because of how dismissive they are of anything that doesn't fit their mould.
Minutes in, and already O'Reilly, Kernoghan-Reid and company have brilliantly touched upon the issue of insecurity at both ends of the scale - the bright and dark sides of what can be perceived as a remedy for unease, and how that effects not only the self, but others who may not think the same way we do. In a sense, it's potential (a word we often hear throughout the show) versus protectionism, or maybe both at once, a theme broadened by the loud and proud presence of drag artist Sasha Supper (Richard Croxford, in a hilarious turn that couldn't be more different than his take on George Mitchell in the Lyric's Agreement) and the more timidly intense stage manager Billy (a nuanced Gerard McCabe), whose own musical number finds a voice in its unique examination of normality.
Remarkably, Mirrorball is able to strike the perfect balance between hilarity and severity that this material demands. It is the sort of play that finds both loud humour and subtle metaphor in a giant silver toilet in the centre of the stage - imagine, if you will, an exhibition at the "Loovre" or "a royal flush" alongside Sasha's view of mental health issues as something to be flushed away like some sort of pity party. In Sasha's case, it comes across less as chastising than a reminder that some people will have neither the mentality nor the persona to listen, no matter what one's situation may be. This is only escalated in every plot and musical development featuring the Narrowminders, and in the poignant, devastating manner in which Cavan's real life HIV diagnosis is adapted into the story - developments which succeed in challenging and opening the mind instead of narrowing it, and in presenting a spectrum of emotions that wash over and into the audience and characters like the sea of colours in Diana Ennis's vibrant set and costume design. It's not always an easy experience, this Mirrorball, but it's an utterly fulfilling and invaluable one - it is a tale of evolution, a journey about the strengthening of initiative and the confrontation of setbacks wrapped in a terrifically acted, directed and scored musical extravaganza.
Mirrorball runs at the Lyric Theatre until Thursday September 21. For more information, and tickets, click here.