Tag Archives: Phil Daniels

A Very Very Very Dark Matter – 4 Stars

A Very Very Very Dark Matter

A Very Very Very Dark Matter

Bridge Theatre

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:
Julius Caesar | ★★★★★ | January 2018
Nightfall | ★★★ | May 2018
Allelujah! | ★★★★ | July 2018

 

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Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde – 2 Stars

Hyde

Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde

Rose Theatre Kingston

Reviewed – 14th February 2018

★★

“The one moment of true violence on stage was badly managed, and failed to convince”

 

Robert Louis Stevenson’s late 19th century novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde revisits the same themes as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, written 70 years earlier. Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, its narrative of the duality of human nature and the merits (or otherwise) of scientific investigation, still have the power to fascinate. What a shame then, that this production remains in the dated and formulaic tradition of Victorian drawing room drama.

David Edgar’s script introduces three female characters to the original, but, despite some excellent work from both Polly Frame as Dr. Jekyll’s forward-looking sister Katherine, and Grace Hogg-Robinson as her plucky maid Annie, their inclusion seemed superfluous, and served only to detract from the pared-down tension of Stevenson’s tale. Indeed, the production as a whole was baggy, and lacked both pace and narrative drive. The inclusion of two sub-plots – Annie’s flight and subsequent appointment in Dr. Jekyll’s house, and Lanyon’s actions as a result of the exposure of his past – together with the final reveal of a formative incident in Dr. Jekyll’s childhood, crowded out the power of Dr. Jekyll’s terrifying experiment entirely.

The production failed to provide any moments of genuine fear, and Phil Daniels’ central performance often teetered on the edge of vaudeville, leaving the audience unsure of what was expected from them. Some able, but strangely-placed, pieces of theatrical business from Sam Cox, as Jekyll’s butler Poole, gave us the reason we needed to laugh, but this reviewer was not the only one to feel the comedy inherent in Daniels’ broad Glaswegian, drunken Hyde. The one moment of true violence on stage was badly managed, and failed to convince, and the decision to delay the conclusion, and thus dilute the impact, of Hyde’s original transgression, as witnessed by Utterson, seemed yet another way to diminish Hyde’s monstrous power.

The production design only served to underline the Fairground House of Horrors feel of the piece, with hackneyed visual and sonic tropes throughout. Rosie Abraham’s haunting voice was beautiful, but overused, and the glowing laboratory door and equipment seemed faintly comedic. As did the continual opening and closing of all three on-stage doors, which bordered on the farcical.

Ultimately, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde did not seize the imagination. It is a tale that still has the capacity to bite, but, unfortunately, this production rendered it toothless.

 

Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Mark Douet

 


Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde

Rose Theatre Kingston until 17th February then continues on tour

 

 

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