Actor and writer Siobhan McMillan drew from personal experience, and a determination to control the course of her career, when she debuted her one woman show, Mirrors, in 2015.
Now she’s back with the show, transferring it to one of London’s leading comedy venues, the Leicester Square Theatre at the end of March, following two acclaimed runs at fringe theatres.
As she prepares for its West End debut Siobhan reflects on the show’s origins with Stage Review.
Billed as a black comedy about a 30-something Vlogger, delving into the unchartered world of Vlogging, we caught up with Siobhan to discuss the play’s development.
The correlation health professionals are now making between regular social media use and its effects on an individual’s mental health are probed by the show’s protagonist, ShyGirl.
What is Mirrors about?
Mirrors is all about a rather inept 30-something Vlogger called ShyGirl who we meet waiting for her date, the very questionable Mikey, who she is hoping to introduce to her very small on-line audience.
He never shows up. In order to escape her bitter disappointment she transforms herself into the more empowered, and more gorgeous, character, Shivvers, who is a wicked evil witch, a distant relative of Snow White’s evil stepmother, and she escapes into a fairy-tale adventure.
When her (now magic) Mirror informs her that she might have lost her looks, she embarks on a pilgrimage to hunt down the woman who is apparently more gorgeous than she, and intends to destroy her.
The play is a black comedy and a modern fairy-tale, a fabulous flight of fancy in which Shivvers meets a host of wonderful women who all, alas, have their own various crippling issues and neuroses to contend with.
The piece deals with the pressures put upon a modern woman through the power of laughter but there’s also poignancy.
You address the effects of social media on mental health. Was it challenging to make it funny?
Comedy is such a great way of examining any number of potentially difficult topics and there’s this long tradition of coming at things from a comic angle to get to the heart of an issue.
And when you stand back and look at the social media landscape it is just inherently ridiculous – that you would judge your self-worth on whether people you probably don’t even know ‘like’ your stuff.
I’ve certainly done that, in the past, and I think that’s why it’s funny because it comes from this place of truth and people can identify with it, which, in turn, adds to the humour.
Tell us what inspired you to create ShyGirl and Mirrors? Was it a moment? A show? Experience? Individual?
I was commissioned in 2015 to write a solo show for a monodrama festival which takes place every year in Luxembourg.
I’ve always loved the whole fairy-tale thing: the language and the characters and the fact you can say so much while within this magical world where almost anything can happen, and you can be a little dark too.
But at the same time the fairy-tale conventions create a kind of distance.
I was also inspired by my own life issues and those of some people close to me at the time, regarding self worth, body image and the pressure to be ever-so successful and gorgeous and how unfulfilling and destructive that can be!
The character of ShyGirl came about a little later when my director at the time, and I, were figuring out how to make this somewhat underdeveloped character (in the initial stages) come to life and how we could create her in a more well-rounded fashion.
Interestingly enough when I initially wrote Mirrors I felt quite connected to ShyGirl and thought that the sorts of things she said were quite ‘normal’.
But when I rehearsed her for the King’s Head Theatre run I couldn’t believe how tragically disempowered and unfulfilled she seemed.
It was a little heartbreaking actually and really showed me the journey of self discovery I had been on.
She’s so much fun though, so naive and such a joy to play, although I wouldn’t want to actually be like her anymore!
You’ve performed the show at some well-known fringe venues, how are you feeling about taking it to the Leicester Square Theatre?
I’m so excited to take it to the Leicester Square Theatre! Each new phase of Mirrors has been wonderful: seeing the work naturally evolve and shift over time and also through my own shifts as a woman.
This really feels like the big ‘proper’ move forward though, and I can’t wait to show it to a wider and a West End audience.
I’ve got the most incredible team for this run so I’m very lucky and feel very supported.
We’ve actually changed the ending for this phase, so it feels really fresh and exciting.
Plus the Leicester Square Theatre has such an amazing comedy vibe which I feel is the natural next step for the show because it is funny and I want to exhibit that aspect of Mirrors even more.
You write, vlog and perform as ShyGirl. So who is Siobhan McMillan?
Siobhan is a more self-aware, somewhat better adjusted person (I hope)!
I was a jobbing actress for many years before deciding I wanted more influence over my career and my life and I really wasn’t too keen on waiting for the phone to ring or fitting in to an archaic perception of an ‘actress’ or what the industry thought I should be.
So I went off and did my Masters at RADA, deciding that from that point on I was going to focus on writing, producing and performing my own work.
That’s been really empowering. I also teach acting and am a coach too. Fundamentally I like helping others to feel more liberated.
So I think Siobhan is definitely a more rounded, more independent individual. She’s a bit more grown-up, more confident, although she does however, occasionally lapse into the odd ShyGirl moment!
Do Siobhan and ShyGirl share some characteristics? Desires? Traits? Habits?
Well, there are elements of ShyGirl within me, as there are all the characters in the show. But she’s a much younger version I think who hasn’t yet mastered the art of independence and trust in herself.
She’s very anxious to please which I avoid where possible! I’m a mixture of each character though as I feel lots of people who come to see the show are – because of course we’re all so multi-faceted depending on the situations we find ourselves in, the people we’re with and our momentary insecurities and experiences.
I’ve definitely been ShyGirl in the past, anxious to please and a little lost and occasionally I find myself acting like ShyGirl! But she’s not all bad! She’s got a rather lovely openness about her which I endeavour to retain!
Is there a message you’ve got for vloggers?
I feel like I’m a tad out of touch in this respect. Being 35, most Vloggers out there are so much younger, so our needs and understanding of the world may be a little different.
I think it’s pretty brilliant to have the confidence and motivation to make your own work in whatever format so I have a lot of respect for anyone who’s doing that. I do think that more 30-plus year-olds should also vlog, so we can enjoy more of a cross section of experience.
Vlogging: fan or foe, and why?
Yes I’m a fan, although some more than others. But Vlogging seems a natural product of our time and resources and I actually think it’s a great vehicle to get yourself heard and to talk about issues which are current and important to you and an important way to have a voice.
I think there are a few too many make-up and box-opening vlogs though… But if there’s a need then who am I to judge? And they’ve been great research for ShyGirl’s vlogs too.
What does the future hold for Mirrors?
First and foremost I want this run of Mirrors itself to be the most positive experience I’ve had in theatre thus far, taking everything I’ve already learnt through putting up my own work, and honing this particular experience so it’s deeply fulfilling.
I want to take full advantage of the opportunity, relish and enjoy it. Doing a solo show can be pretty nerve wracking but I’m determined to have the best time and really connect with my audiences.
I would love to transfer it after Leicester Square of course – the piece is very dear to my heart..
My director, Gabi, and I are also making plans to perform in non-theatre venues to non-traditional audiences, and run workshops focusing on some of the issues raised in the show, and possibly giving the opportunity for other women to perform Mirrors, outside of London.
There’s also a sequel to Mirrors called Woman in A Hotel Room, which I’m looking forward to putting up afterwards, where poor old Shy Girl is invited out to nondescript Europe to perform her one woman show and finds herself in a kind of purgatory with all her internal women (alter-egos) instead… Watch this space.
Mirrors runs at the Leicester Square Theatre from March 28 – April 14.