Mirror Mirror

Review written by Flossie Waite
An Oily Cart production
Touring nationally in Autumn 2016 and Spring/ Summer 2017
For 3-19 year olds, this show comes in two distinct versions: for children and young people with profound and multiple learning disabilities, and for those on the autism spectrum

The thing about Oily Cart is that they make their shows so personal. Each member of their very limited audiences (usually about six young people joined by a parent or carer) is given individual attention and unique encounters, the performers responding to each young person’s needs, and cultivating shared experiences between child and accompanying adult. Their work is customized and close – in some senses like One-on-One theatre, though they have been using this approach since before it was cool (as Lyn Gardner wrote in her recent interview with Artistic Director Tim Webb, the company’s focus on its audience has often meant being one step ahead of other theatre makers). Oily Cart’s productions bring the theatrical experience as near as possible – every person is a protagonist – whilst also allowing every participant to be very much part of an audience, and Mirror Mirror, like last year’s Light Show, is in the round.

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Mirror Mirror’s beauty parlour is the perfect setting for the type of work Oily Cart are so good at creating. It’s an (often communal) environment tailored to making individuals feel special, and draws together some of the sensory techniques Oily Cart have developed over the past 35 years. Audiences of young people with profound and multiple learning disabilities, or on the autism spectrum, are seated in reclining chairs, surrounded by a glittery set and ready for a series of spa treatments. Soft make-up brushes glide across faces, warm soapy water washes over skin, mud-packs are even massaged into hands, all the while a harp playing in the background with the accompanying music occasionally becoming harmonized song. The relaxed and relaxing atmosphere isn’t without fun and silliness – a song about mud, for instance, is full of squelching and blowing raspberries – and everyone is encouraged to get involved and play.

Mirrors are the perfect tool and metaphor to explore Oily Cart’s style of theatre – so personal that it directly involves and engages with an individual’s reflection, whilst also making this experience a shared one, reflected back by the other audience members around the room. It’s not the first time mirrors have appeared in an Oily Cart production – towards the end of Light Show, the performers spent a few minutes with each of the audience members in turn, holding up a mirror and singing their name over and over. The reflective surface didn’t only allow the young people to see themselves but encouraged interaction with the adult joining them. Whether pointing out what they could see or just watching together, a common visual focus allowed for a shared intimate experience, one happening in front of their eyes and heightened by the focused attention of the performers and the song dedicated just to them. It was intense and moving – in the performance I watched, one father began to cry. Mirror Mirror expands and extends this moment, with much bigger mirrors (the showbiz type surrounded by lightbulbs) that can be used in entirely new ways, whilst still retaining what made it so magical before.

As with all of Oily Cart’s work, this piece is immersive, interactive, multi-sensory, transient and experiential, but for all its immediacy, th Oily Cart production lingers long after you’ve left the room. Mirror Mirror leaves plenty to reflect on.

Children’s Theatre Reviews exists to help plug the gap in criticism and writing about theatre for young audiences. It is run entirely voluntarily, and needs support to continue covering and supporting the sector. For more information and to help give children’s theatre the voice it deserves, please visit our Patreon page.

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