Martin McDonagh has had a career of undoubted success. From his stage plays to his movies McDonagh seems to have the midas touch as a writer. When the Bridge announced his newest play a year ago, there was genuine excitement in the theatre community, which made it more surprising that A VERY VERY VERY DARK MATTER received some very very very negative press on it’s opening.
Like his previous smash hit THE PILLOWMAN, McDonagh delves into the darkest part of his imagination for this piece. The play rewrites history, imagining that legendary children’s author Hans Christian Andersen keeps an African pygmy woman in his Copenhagen attic, with her being the true genius behind his enduring works.
Seeing the play almost two months after opening, A VERY VERY VERY DARK MATTER is an interesting play albeit not without flaws. The premise is crazy yet strangely watchable. The play is never boring and at 90 minutes long, zips through at pace. The dialogue, although sometimes jarring and forced, has some laugh out loud one-lines. If not quite the usual magic of McDonagh’s work, there are glimmers of his genius. With some rewrites, I think the play could be a success akin to THE PILLOWMAN. The humour has incited controversy, as on surface level, it looks like comedy that is created only to offend. However, I believe that McDonagh is above creating controversy for the sake of controversy. Instead, he subverts his audience by creating a cruel tale about a man who writes cruel tales. He holds his audience captive in a kind of twisted fairytale that, whilst making us laugh, also makes us think about the actions of our ancestors. It’s a clever concept, but is not pulled off perfectly this time.
Whilst the play is altogether a bit hit and miss, there is little complaints about the production itself. Matthew Dunster, reuniting with McDonagh following their incredible HANGMEN, is well in tune with the savagely satirical tone of the play. Anna Fleischle’s creepy set is an incredibly detailed marvel, its dark recesses and hanging dolls the stuff of nightmares.
Jim Broadbent is razor sharp as Hans Christian Andersen. Whilst the characters actions shock and appall the audience, Broadbent turns convention on its head presenting Andersen as a gentle, bumbling buffoon. He’s strongly supported in his scenes in the second half with Phil Daniels as Charles Dickens. The back and forth between the two provides the most hysterical moments in the play. Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles brings gravitas to her role.
A VERY VERY VERY DARK MATTER has a fruitful premise. With rewrites it has the potential to reach the dark heights of THE PILLOWMAN. Altogether though, whilst entertaining, there is slight disappointment that McDonagh has not reached his usual excellence with this one. McDonagh has raised the bar so high for himself, it’s always a shame when he doesn’t quite reach his incredible potential. That said, the production and performances raise this play, ensuring it to be a genuinely entertaining night at the theatre.
A VERY VERY VERY DARK MATTER runs at London’s Bridge Theatre to 6th January.