Review – A Very Very Very Dark Matter, The Bridge Theatre

Friday 19 October 2018

A Very Very Very Dark Matter certainly is what it says on the tin. But in opening that grubby little tin be warned, we might spoil the contents for you. Continue at your peril.

This is the very, very, very dark side of Hans Christian Andersen (Jim Broadbent) who in Martin McDonagh‘s magnificently twisted imagination may not be the creative force he’s cracked up to be. If you’ve seen a certain film that’s doing the rounds at the moment some of this may sound slightly familiar.

Here, the story-telling genius is not Andersen. His creativity is supplied by a one-legged pygmy from the Congo called Marjory (Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles) who is partial to sausage and passes her days held prisoner in a suspended swinging box in the writer’s puppet-filled Copenhagen attic. Strangely enough this was pretty much how Andrew and Phil used to collaborate back in the day.

To add to Marjory’s torment she’s also in danger from a pair of homicidal Belgian time-travelling twins who wear very bad prosthetic jerkins that would shame even the early days of Doctor Who. We promise we’re not making any of this up. HCA is also depicted as a homosexual and a very, very, very bad house guest. He never married and the bad house guest bit is based on fact apparently.

It’s 90 minutes with no interval so we can forgive Martin McDonagh for his lack of punctuation in the title. We are less forgiving of it for not being much cop.

Phil’s a big fan of McDonagh. The Pillowman (also with Broadbent) was one of the best things he’s ever seen on a stage. Ditto The Beauty Queen of Leenane. And in Phil’s humble opinion Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri should have trounced that wet fish movie at the Oscars. But what went wrong here? The Bridge Theatre seems to be nurturing a talent for putting us off playwrights who have previously impressed us.

McDonagh employs his signature need to shock. But here the shocks and political incorrectness tend to be tediously irritating rather than funny. The repetitive wording of the title should be seen as a warning to a degree of repetition in the play. His use of the C word certainly seemed to see off the couple sitting behind us very early on. Andersen visits London and stays with a very sweary Charles Dickens (Phil Daniels), his very sweary wife (Elizabeth Berrington) and very sweary children. Strangely enough, these are funniest scenes in Matthew Dunster‘s production until even they begin to pall with one weak Dickens’ book title gag after another.

Marjory’s plight might be drawing subtle parallels with Thumbelina (her size) and The Little Mermaid (missing leg) but if it’s making some sort if comment on African colonisation it was hard to tell let alone care. It builds – without any tension – to a touch of Tarantinoesque carnage and some unfunny funny business with an accordion. Some of it is so weird that it just becomes a bit confusing, perhaps more previews will sort some of this. In more positive news the creepily atmospheric design from Anna Fleischle is impressive.

Little else to say about it really other than that soap fans might note that Coronation Street‘s demented kidnapping killer teacher John Stape (Graeme Hawley) and Eastender‘s Nigel Bates (Paul Bradley) are also in the cast. Oh, and that as a child Phil pretended to knock on on the door of Hans Andersen’s home in Odense for a photo opportunity only a few days after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.

The audience of course applauded fairly enthusiastically. It was a case of The Emperor’s New Clothes for Phil.

A rare misfire for McDonagh. Yet another misfire for The Bridge.



4 Responses to “Review – A Very Very Very Dark Matter, The Bridge Theatre”

  1. mike jones Says:

    saw this tonight….er, it is rather weird, blessedly short and just generally not especially good. Will be curious to see if any of the reviewers enjoy it as much as some of the audience seemed to tonight. I’ll be advising anyone who asks to give it a miss.

    • mike jones Says:

      oh, that said i did like the idea of the Belgian time travelling twins/siblings being reminiscent of the Chuckle brothers. That was the idea, wasn’t it? Barry and Dirk?

  2. Esmeralda Johnstone Says:

    We saw this play this week at a matinee and loved it.Found it highly amusing.Jim Broadbent gives the comic performance of the year. We were surrounded by theatre goers who like us were really enjoying it . Ok there are a couple of scenes with the “ killers” that don’t work,but we gave the play a solid 4 glasses of red wine ,or should that be Champagne as we are now in the festive season. ( no comments please about matinee audiences……if you had to travel on Southern Trains you too wouldn’t venture far from home ,especially when it’s winter ! ) x

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