Eerie and captivating

The Mirror Trap, at Edinburgh Science Festival, reviewed by Harry Clark.

Have you ever stared into the mirror and scrutinised the face that gazes back? How do you know it really is you? It looks exactly like you but how would you know for sure?

If this level of existential questioning leaves you clammy, short of breath and filled with dread, then perhaps this isn’t for you. But, for those of you who stride out into uncertainty with curiosity, then this part immersive play, part education on physics and psychology might be your cup of tea.

It all began quite mysteriously. An email from scientist Paul Gotes invited me via Zoom link to attend his research webinar. A list of requirements for the ‘research’ followed – a mirror, headphones, a whiteboard marker and a dimly lit room. All this, along with the line ‘Please keep this between the two of us’, suggested this wasn’t going to be your typical online lecture.

Paul’s shaky voice broke through my headphones and it was clear he wasn’t doing great. I was instructed to stare into my own reflection, fixing my eyes, whilst Paul began his explanation of the research we had unwittingly become a part of.

What ensued was an eerie and captivating monologue, using theories surrounding quantum physics and multidimensional realities to draw you into this unstable scientist’s revelations. Hearing this story whilst staring at my reflection, I got the sense that my eyesight was playing tricks on me. Did my face didn’t look this haggard at the start? Is my face becoming less visible the longer this goes on…?

Then, after a shocking climax, it turns out he’s not Paul at all, he’s Simon Watt, the creator of this show and he’s joined by physicist Jennifer Smillie and psychologist Kate Storrs to explain what the hell just happened.

This dynamic of a post-show discussion with experts in the areas covered was particularly insightful. Sometimes a science heavy play, film or book can go straight over your head if you can’t engage in the basic principles it deals with. However, get a team of experts to wander out (virtually) and give you a detailed explanation of quantum physics or the top down neural mechanisms responsible for visual illusions and you’re sorted. A bit like if Brian Cox popped up at the end credits of Interstellar and outlined how you get McConaughey on the interdimensional side of a bookcase.

This show was an enjoyably unnerving and educational 50 minutes and I will never look at my face in a mirror the same!

- Reviewed by Harry Clark, mental health researcher

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