The House of Mirrors and Hearts, Arcola Theatre, review: Not exactly a cracking show

A bewildering mixture of glaringly underdeveloped and overly studied

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You would think twice about calling this new British chamber musical a “cracking” show. An intense, hermetic piece, with music and lyrics by Eamonn O'Dwyer and a book by him and Rob Gilbert, it has the imagery of breakage (of glass, promises, secrets) on the brain. 

The mirror-maker father dies in mysterious circumstances at the start and, after a temporal jump, we see the toll that seven years of grief, lies and repression have taken on the now dipsomaniac mother and her daughters – one neurotically withdrawn, the other alarmingly forward sexually.

The cast in Ryan McBryde's production bring a fierce conviction to the long, plangent chromatic lines and troubled dissonances in O'Dwyer's score and continue to intrigue us despite the fact that the story is high-falutin' hokum and the show a curious mix of the studied to a fault and the glaringly underdeveloped. 

Mollie McGuire dazzles vocally as she tries to seduce the nerdy scholar lodger (played with warm charm by Jamie Muscato) whose presence forces the family to confront the past. He and Grace Rowe as the damaged older daughter get the best sequence as they hurl and smash the empty bottles of Gillian Kirkpatrick's formidable mother with a lovely giddy sense of cathartic release.

To August 1; 020 7503 1646