A Very Very Very Dark Matter at the Bridge Theatre
A Very Very Very Dark Matter represents a very very very aggressive, insidious form of programming cynicism. Slap together a couple of big names – here Martin McDonagh and Jim Broadbent – and stick it on sale, regardless of whether the play in question is in any way deserving of being on stage. It’s the same kind of decision-making process that sees something as pointless as David Hare’s I’m Not Running put on at the National Theatre.
What makes the Bridge’s own exercise in money-grabbing laziness so egregious is that, not only is Dark Matter unmitigated garbage, it is the kind of garbage designed to make the audience feel they have witnessed something subversive and politically engaged, rather than tiresomely offensive and cheap.
Hans Christian Andersen (Broadbent) didn’t write his own fairytales. No, according to McDonagh the vain buffoon stole his stories from a Congolese pygmy called Marjory (Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles, who deserves a lot better), the woman kept locked in the Dane’s puppet-strewn nightmare of an attic (Anna Fleischle’s set is one of the few positives in a truly dreadful production). But that’s not all. A time-travelling pair of bloody Belgian brothers inexplicably feature, as does Phil Daniels’s foul-mouthed Charles Dickens – who may have more in common with ol’ Hans than first thought.
The Oscar-winning Irish playwright made his name with the blackest of black comedies. Here that impulse completely sours. First and foremost, the production is excruciatingly unfunny. A grating central performance from Broadbent, atrocious pacing from director Matthew Dunster (though he is working with a script of pure nonsense) and an over-reliance on played-out vulgarity – extra disappointing given McDonagh’s skill with swearing elsewhere – make the play an utter chore to sit through.
On top of that, it is just incredibly wrong-headed. The violence of what the Danish author has done – remember, the plot makes him a foot-hacking slavemaster spewing a constant stream of racist jibes – is undermined by his role as a doddering, bumbling fool. As for the supposed exploration of colonialism, an element that has been praised in other quarters, it largely takes place in a brief scene that turns the description of the genocide of ten million Congolese people by the Belgian Empire into a bit of double-act stage patter.
The gross irony of Dark Matter is that it thinks it is making a point about the erasure of certain voices, and the continued celebration of morally toxic historical and artistic figures, at a theatre that is yet to mount an original play by a woman or a single production by a writer (or director) of colour.
Photo: Manuel Harlan
A Very Very Very Dark Matter is at the Bridge Theatre from 12th October until 6th January 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.