WORTH A LOOK?: ***
WHERE? Bridge Theatre RUNTIME: 90 minutes (no interval)
WHEN?: 13/10, press night 24/10, runs to 6/1/19
To say Martin McDonagh’s new work is eagerly awaited would be to seriously underplay how hot he is is right now.
- Read on for reasons including what to expect from its stars Jim Broadbent and Phil Daniels
In March his last film Three Billboards won 2 Oscars and in 2016 his last play, Hangmen, was awarded the Best New Play Olivier Award. While we thought the former was 1 of the best films of the year, we were disappointed with the latter and it is a theme we will return to later here.
We were at the 2nd preview of his new play and – stop reading now – if you don’t want to know the outrageous idea at its heart. How has celebrated Danish children’s author Hans Christian Andersen managed to write such dark brilliant tales?
Because he has imprisoned a woman from the Congo in a box suspended from the ceiling of his townhouse and she is writing them after her family were murdered by the Belgians who purported to bring Christianity to her country but instead plundered its natural resources and killed millions of her people.
We’re in 19th Century Copenhagen and Jim Broadbent (A Christmas Carol at the Noel Coward) is stumbling over the word ‘ether’ as her reads his A Little Mermaid to Danish schoolchildren. Later we learn that his disabled slave Marjory (newcomer Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles, brilliant) titled it A Little Black Mermaid but Andersen has edited it.
Elsewhere there are time travelling, blood-soaked Belgians who appear to Andersen and are out to get Marjory and the action moves to the London home of fellow author Charles Dickens (a foul-mouthed and funny Phil Daniels) who Andersen comes to believe may have kidnapped Marjory’s sister, who is behind Dickens’ best work.
Our problem with A Very, Very, Very Dark Matter is that, while McDonagh could be argued to be skewering the lazy racism of 18th Century Europe of the time, it makes for a very uncomfortable and politically incorrect watch in 2018. Particularly when for much else of the piece the language is so this year (Dickens’ wife responds with: ‘Are you shitting me?’ in 1 moment of incredulity).
Perhaps this is intentional. McDonagh has never been 1 to shy away from anything controversial, one only needs to watch Three Billboards to realise how close it comes to straying into gun-toting vigilantism and the fact that it doesn’t, of course, makes it an all the more powerful argument for forgiveness.
That something so dark is playing over Christmas at the Bridge is to be applauded but we would advise approaching with caution.