Bridge Theatre, London – until 9 January 2019
Martin McDonagh’s new play is a (very) dark fairytale with colonial undertones. Who else’s imagination could put Hans Christian Andersen (Jim Broadbent), a one-legged black pigmy woman called Marjory (Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles) and two bloody, time-travelling Belgian twins in the same story? The question is whether it works.
McDonagh’s Andersen is the antithesis of what you’d expect the writer of fairy-tales to be like but there may be a very good explanation for that. He is self-centered, vain and politically incorrect, to put it mildly, and has a dark secret in the form of Marjory, whom he keeps locked up in a glass-sided box in his puppet-strewn attic.
Marjory is from the Congo, clever, sharp and capable, having survived the massacre of her people engineered by Belgian King Leopold II. But she has more problems to deal with than merely being a prisoner, she is also a person of interest for the murderous twins.
The dialogue is liberally sprinkled with swear words as well as the sort of lines that have you laughing awkwardly – or guiltily giggling as I did a couple of times. It feels like a horror story, one in which the toys could spring to life at any moment with ill intent.
A horror story where crimes of the past are revisited without recourse and a horror story that has turned nightmarish, the surreality of a dream blending the seemingly incongruous. The problem is that despite its more surreal moments it gets a bit too dream-like in that some of it just doesn’t make any sense.
Bringing Charles Dickens (Phil Daniels) into the story for one scene narrowly escapes being an indulgent way of showing how Andersen is a terrible house-guest by helping tie some plot points together. Despite Broadbent’s ability to make the bumbling, gauche Andersen ugly and nasty this feels like Ackles’ play. Marjory is an intriguing combination of no-nonsense, resigned and clever which left me curious for more of her story.
A Very Very Very Dark Matter is a fairytale of human ugliness and evil but it is also a toy that isn’t working properly.
Some classic McDonagh but not enough for it to worry the best of list from his back catalogue.
It’s 90 minutes without an interval and I’m giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️ and it is at the Bridge Theatre until January 9.