Review: Circle Mirror Transformation

A quietly thought-provoking and occasionally profound interpretation of Annie Baker’s 2009 play

A 2009 play by Annie Baker, Circle Mirror Transformation centres around five characters who have recently enrolled in an “Adult Creative Drama” class at their local community centre. As the weeks progress and the five characters wade their way through a number of seemingly mundane acting and dramatic exercises, a sparse but evocative picture of each character’s past falls into place, and this play that begins as a tantalising glimpse into a budding romance rapidly transforms into an – occasionally profound – analysis of human nature and feelings.

Directors Holly Jones and Holly Pearce ensure that the emphasis is well and truly on the repetition of the acting classes throughout. The games they play are actively dragged out, the set is exceptionally minimalist, and the lighting is simple and rarely creative, paving the way for the actors to guide the piece’s progression with their careful characterisation and sensitive portrayals of different emotions throughout.

Image credit: Holly Pearce

Indeed, while these choices may not be excessively creative, they certainly highlight the performance’s best asset: its actors. All five put on an excellent display throughout, especially Georgia Greig as the likeable but multifaceted class teacher Marty and Aine McNamara as the vibrant but sometimes difficult to understand Teresa.

The adherence to minimalism is also – by and large – effective for what Circle Mirror Transformation is trying to achieve. There is an awkward sweetness and humour to this play, added to by the slow-moving pace, as the five characters travel with ease through the uncomfortable moments of introductory meetings, first dates, and eventual break-ups.

Sarah Mulgrew’s reserved but emotionally expressive portrayal of schoolgirl Lauren and Tom Chandler’s incredibly introverted take on recently-divorced carpenter Schultz are both key examples of this: portraying social awkwardness is a difficult task without bordering on caricature, but both Lauren and Schultz were brought to life delightfully on the Corpus Stage last night.

Image credit: Holly Pearce

However, the development of these characters’ relationships is cast under a microscope throughout, and so it is perhaps a little jarring that after – apparently – six weeks of drama classes, these characters don’t seem to act any differently around each other than they did towards the beginning of this two-hour piece. I can’t escape the feeling that the whole team needed a little more time in rehearsal to work on these nuances; perhaps after the opening night’s nerves have worn off, variation will come through more naturally on its own.

At times, the deliberately slow pace only adds to this semblance of a lack of confidence amongst the cast. Cruelly, I can’t help but wonder if – for all that they are bizarrely profound – the repetitive nature of many of the scenes is more of a hindrance than a help: had some of the scenes been shortened or reanalysed, the same ideas could probably have been expressed in half the time they were. I only touch on this because the concept of the play is so touching that the flashes of brilliance which do shine through only make the rest of the performance look like something of a missed opportunity.

Image credit: Holly Pearce

For example, the closing scene between Lauren and Schultz, in which they imagine what would happen if they were to bump into each other again by chance in ten years’ time, is touching, human, and very, very real – a stellar three-punch combination which, although sometimes lacking elsewhere, functions as a charming and quietly thought-provoking ending to this “circle-mirror-transformation”.

Ultimately, this performance winds up being an unassuming rumination on miscommunication, the growth and collapse of relationships, and the various points of crossover between different people’s lives. While at times it’s profound, at others it can be a little too simplistic.


Circle Mirror Transformation is running from Tuesday 25th January to Saturday 29th January at 9.30 pm at the Corpus Playroom. Tickets are available here

Feature image credit: Sylvia Cordara