Review - A Very Very Very Dark Matter (Bridge Theatre)

In Martin McDonagh's latest dark comedy, beloved storyteller Hans Christian Andersen is outed as a fraud. The writer of fantastical children's stories is framed a bumbling, fame hungry buffoon, whose creations are penned instead by a 'one-footed, Congolese pygmy woman' named Ogechi, or as Andersen renames her, Marjory. Much nonsense ensues, as time travelling Belgians stalk Andersen and his enslaved ghost writer, and Charles Dickens is even brought along for the ride too.

Jim Broadbent in A Very Very Very Dark Matter
Photo credit - Manuel Harlan
The elements of a parodic romp are all present, but unfortunately the story is weighed down by too much padding which aims for daring and provocative, but lands somewhere a bit closer to mind bogglingly scattergun and, at times, downright insensitive.  

From the very beginning, A Very Very Very Dark Matter feels unfocused. Tom Waits cameos as a prerecorded narrator, rumbling out some slow, teasing narration, as a small box is revealed on stage, surrounded by a cluttered mess of puppets, toys and other random artifacts. Inside the box sits Ogechi, the author of every one of Andersen's greatest works, according to McDonough. Hell-bent on travelling through time to prevent the colonisation of the Congo, she sits and waits for her fate to kick into motion, writing fairy tales partially to pass the time and partially as the insistence of Andersen, her captor. 

The cast of A Very Very Very Dark Matter
Photo credit - Manuel Harlan

What is most frustrating about A Very Very Very Dark Matter is that it feels like a missed opportunity. Tonally, it balances its over-the-top dark fun very well. Jokes about Hans Christian Andersen leaving Marjory 14 sausages to eat whilst he jaunts off to London for a fortnight feel particularly apt, as they mock the performative benevolence of Andersen, and by extension, seem to hint towards the unapologetic advancement of the West running parallel to the late 19th century colonisation in the Congo.

Andersen's extended visit to the home of Charles Darwin and his foul mouthed family is also rather entertaining, thanks in no small part to the excellent combination of Phil Daniels as an exasperated Dickens and Jim Broadbent as the oblivious Andersen, who seems completely unaware of the nuisance he causes within the fractured Dickens household. Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles is also a complete delight as Ogechi, a rough and tough foil for the rather more childish, oblivious Andersen.

Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles in A Very Very Very Dark Matter 
Photo credit - Manuel Harlan
The story is just too bizarre to be meaningful though. During the nineteenth century, Europe was embroiled in all manner of atrocities around the globe, therefore it feels rather belittling to fabricate such an absurd fiction around Hans Christian Andersen and Charles Dickens, as opposed to the real life historical figures who had a real tangible hand in the colonisation of the Congo. 

A Very Very Very Dark Matter tries far too hard to come across as clever and knowing, and just ends up thoroughly confusing its audience.