A Very Very Very Dark Matter
Reviewed – 29th October 2018
“the joviality imbues a sense of giddy discomfort to the atmosphere as the script and the cast expertly squeeze every ounce of black humour out”
With his unique brand of dark humour and storytelling, Martin McDonagh has authored countless classics, from The Pillowman to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Naturally, then, there’s a lot of excitement surrounding his latest play that dismantles the glorification of nineteenth-century writers like Hans Christian Anderson and Charles Dickens. Does it deliver? Very very very much.
The play centres around the notion that all of Anderson’s work was actually written by a Congolese pigmy named Marjory, who he keeps imprisoned in a pendulous box in his attic, and that he takes all the credit for her work (occasionally making edits, such as changing The Little Black Mermaid to just The Little Mermaid). It later transpires that Dickens is doing exactly the same thing with Marjory’s sister. This is of course an allusion to the cultural appropriation and colonialisation of BAME narratives, which McDonagh attempts to heighten by linking it with a time travel plot involving a massacre carried out by King Leopold II of Belgium. However, this never really seems to add anything of substance to the main themes of the play, and leaves you wondering exactly what its purpose was.
This is one of McDonagh’s most comically focussed works, with characters frequently playing directly to the audience and firing off joke after joke. Most land spectacularly, and the joviality imbues a sense of giddy discomfort to the atmosphere as the script and the cast expertly squeeze every ounce of black humour out. Jim Broadbent as Anderson is pitch-perfect, portraying him as lovable and somewhat bumbling, despite having committed the horrific act of enslaving Marjory – he’s the quintessential product of imperialism. Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles makes her stage debut as Marjory and does a formidable job as the driven and unstoppable genius behind Anderson’s work, and Phil Daniels and Elizabeth Berrington are excellently paired as Charles and Catherine Dickens, whose hate-fuelled chemistry makes for some of the show’s most hilarious moments.
Anna Fleischle’s gothic design exacerbates the fairytale-esque quality of the story, with Anderson’s cavernous attic being adorned with marionettes that enhance the disturbing undertones of the subject matter. Matthew Dunster’s direction, too, strikes a just-right balance of not labouring the themes while also not downplaying the intellectual drive of the script. And A Very Very Very Dark Matter has intellectual drive in droves – it asks questions on celebrity, appropriation, oppression, colonialisation, imperialism, authorship, and the nature of stories and time itself. It spends so long asking questions, however, that it forgets to lay the foundation for the audience to find answers. This is a play that will subsequently gnaw away at your mind for a long time, as you ponder the reach of its implications. A Very Very Very Dark Matter takes you on a mesmeric journey, but never quite finds it destination.
Reviewed by Tom Francis
Photography by Manuel Harlan
A Very Very Very Dark Matter
Bridge Theatre until 6th January
Previously reviewed at this venue: