A Very Very Very Dark Matter is a very very very confusing play. Performed at the Bridge Theatre (the first time I’ve been there since Julius Caesar), it is a new play by Martin McDonagh, whose work I’ve really enjoyed in the past. Sadly, it didn’t live up to my expectations.
The story is bizarre to say the least. It centres around famous fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen, who McDonagh portrays as a truly reprehensible individual: sneering, arrogant and dismissive of the children to whom his stories mean so much. Worst of all, he has a secret – he keeps a Congolese pygmy woman (his description), Marjory, in his attic, and it is she who is responsible for writing all his stories.
Meanwhile, two blood-soaked Belgians arrive from the future (with their Yorkshire accents they reminded me of the Chuckle Brothers), linked to Marjory who must apparently travel forward in time to kill them. Oh, and Andersen also travels to London to stay with Charles Dickens, who has his own skeleton in the cupboard (literally).
There are some good ideas in this play, but as a whole it feels very confused and incoherent. If McDonagh wanted to make a point about women and black people being exploited and erased by white men there are surely a million other ways to do this that actually make sense. On the plus side, the play is often very funny, and the Dickens section in particular is highly amusing (It is actually true that Andersen visited Dickens in London and outstayed his welcome, and I think this would make a highly entertaining play in its own right).
I wasn’t sure about Jim Broadbent’s performance as Andersen, though in fairness this is perhaps because his character was so different to how I’d imagined it. I thought Phil Daniels was great as Dickens, however, and Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles, in her debut stage role, was superb and one to watch in the future. Anna Fleischle’s set, too, was eerie and fabulously rich in detail.
Though it was not totally without merit, I don’t think this play was up to McDonagh’s usual standard. It was memorable, but often for all the wrong reasons.