“Once Upon A Time” and “They lived happily ever after” are two of the famous sayings from fairytales. To this day we love tales like The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Pea, Thumberlina, The Ugly Duckling and The Snow Queen (better known now as Frozen). But fairy tales, particularly those by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, often have dark themes, very very dark themes.
Now, in Martin McDonagh’s new play A Very Very Very Dark Matter, the inspiration for Andersen’s fairy tales is explored. The premise is that Hans Christian Andersen is working in a townhouse in Copenhagen but the source of his inspiration is in the attic upstairs, her existence a secret from the outside world. It’s hard to say much, without giving the plot away, but the play explores the idea that Anderson did not write the stories for which he is famous. Throw in some political commentary both past and present, some time-travelling and an appearance by Charles Dickens and you might be getting a little closer to the mark.
You may have heard of Oscar-winning writer Martin McDonagh due to his play The Lieutenant of Inishmore which recently finished its run staring Aidan Turner. McDonagh also wrote, directed and produced the 2017 film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. All three have dark humour, bloody violence, crimes and other similarities. Likened to McDonah’s hit The Pillowman, A Very Very Very Dark Matter is described as dangerous, twisted and funny. There are warnings of strong language, sexual references, explicit violence, gunshots and scenes people may find disturbing. There are a number of jokes that in the current climate fail to reach their mark. Whatever you do, don’t bring your children as it is completely unsuitable.
Golden Globe, BAFTA and Academy Award winning British actor Jim Broadbent brings Hans Christian Anderson to life. Broadbent is known for his roles in blockbuster movies and quirky independent films, and his credits include Moulin Rouge, the Bridget Jones’s diary films and the Harry Potter films to name a few of his more famous works. In this play, Andersen is presented as a fumbling idiot with a dark side, which Broadbent plays in his unique comic way.
Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles portrays Marjory. Though this is her debut stage performance, her stage presence is one to watch in the future. Other roles are very thin but notably include a swearing, philandering Dickens played by Phil Daniels.
At 90 minutes with no interval the time does pass quickly though it packs too many themes fir any to be considered in-Edith. These include: colonisation, class and privilege, forced imprisonment, mutilation, genocide, racism and time-travelling just to name a few. I was left feeling unsatisfied and with more questions then I went in with. There are two parts to the story distinguishable due to the growling recorded narration, a blackout and loud music; but in terms of the action there was no need for such a split.
The set and music was intriguing from the start. When you walk in, there is a large wooden box swinging back and forth. The music also conveys images of a clock with warm, deep brass sounds contrasting with lighter toned instruments to create the different sounds of chimes. As most of the action occurs in the attic, there are many wooden beams and wooden furniture with wooden puppets hanging from the rafters. Set designer Anna Fleischle and composer James Maloney have effectively contrasted the images of childhood we associate with Anderson with the dark adult themes.
The Bridge Theatre was founded by Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr on leaving the National Theatre. It’s focus is on commissioning and producing new works and this is certainly a unique premise. If you’re enjoyed McDonagh’s previous works, looking for some dark humour or to see a different side to a beloved author than this may well be the play for you. But if you want a nice fairytale ending then I suggest you look elsewhere.
A Very Very Dark Matter has been running since 12th October and will continue until
6th January 2019. Performances are Monday to Saturday at 7.45pm with matinees held Wednesday and Saturday 2.30pm. Ticket prices range from £15-£65 with reduced prices for previews and matinees. There are £15 day seats available from 10am at the Box Office but these are limited to one per person. If you are under 26 you can join the Young Bridge Scheme and take advantage of £15 tickets every Monday.
Address: The Bridge Theatre, 3 Potters Fields Park, London, SE12SG
Written by Caitlin Neal
Photo: Manuel Harlan.