Tuesday 30 October 2018

A Very Very Very Dark Matter - Review

Bridge Theatre, London


Written by Martin McDonagh
Directed by Matthew Dunster

Phil Daniels and Jim Broadbent

With a running time of just 90 minutes and Tom Waits as The Narrator, what’s not to like about A Very Very Very Dark Matter, the first seasonal show to be offered at London’s newest venue, the Bridge? In an alternative take on the typically seasonal, richly fruited and Victoriana-laced Christmas fairy tales, Martin McDonagh’s new play is set in Copenhagen and London, gorging itself on gothic grand-guignol and arguing a fantastic premise that both Denmark’s Hans Christian Andersen and Charles Dickens enjoyed a morbid fascination with African pygmy women.

McDonagh never misses an opportunity to let his politics get in the way of what might otherwise be a good story and so it is here, his narrative heavily laced with furrowed brow punditry upon the Congo’s complexities and exploitation. But don’t see this slightly troubled drama for its hobbled historical spiel on geo-politics. See it rather for McDonagh’s most fertile, febrile of imaginations putting on a theatrical treat that is played out by a magnificent cast.

Jim Broadbent is Andersen who, aside from a minor wig malfunction, puts in an assured turn portraying the weaver of legendary fairy tales as a racist, doddery misogynist who, in an intriguing conceit, was barely literate and whose stories were actually penned by Marjory, an African pygmy who he kept confined in a wooden box.  Broadbent’s timing and delivery is unsurpassed, but when he’s placed into a dining-table exchange with Phil Daniels’ exasperated Dickens - who has had to endure the unwelcome Dane as a house guest for five weeks - the exchanges are eye-wateringly brilliant. McDonagh captures the essence of The Two Ronnies, crossed with Derek and Clive - and in the hands of these two immaculate actors, there’s no finer double act in town.

The writer and his director Matthew Dunster offer up a sprinkling of nods towards Tarantino’s more wittier moments too, while alongside Broadbent and Daniels who both play scumbags of the highest order, there is standout work from Johnetta Eula'Mae Ackles as Marjory and a cleverly comic cameo from Elizabeth Berrington as Dickens’ much put upon wife Catherine. Anna Fleischle’s designs are as lavish as they are creepy, and for those who like their horror served bloody, the play does not disappoint.

Make no mistake, the evening’s imagery and language are the foulest, and whilst there may be a handful of talented kids in the cast, this is far from festive family fayre.

Worth catching though - much of this new writing is stunning.

Runs until 6th January 2019
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

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