Educative yet humorous, Martin McDonagh’s ‘A Very Very Very Dark Matter’, directed by Matthew Dunster is a success. Truly, through the chosen context of the play and his varied, exciting and hyperbolic characters, the British playwright is able to address some of today’s central themes while remaining light and entertaining.
During the play, McDonagh suggests that two of the pillars of our literature, Charles Dickens, (Phil Daniels) and Hans Christen Andersen (Academy Award winning Jim Broadbent); both had ‘a midget pygmy’, locked up in a wooden box, who wrote their stories for them. Andersen’s tiny woman has for ultimate goal to prevent the Belgian’s atrocities in the Congo. She thus seeks to ‘write herself out’ of the wooden box in which the Danish storywriter keeps her. Through the relationship of Andersen and Marjory, the small Congolese woman, played by the debuting and incredible Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles, the audience is led to believe that the two glorified authors were inspired by oral stories of Africa collected during colonialist era.
Moreover, I believe that McDonagh, explores another aspect in the history of racism. Indeed, he make a direct reference to the statue controversies and the past events in Charlottesville and further develops it in underlining the lack of credit we gave to Africa in shaping our culture and our world as a whole. Undeniably, one of Marjory’s monologue leads the audience to reflect on the fact that such king yet ‘killer’ of millions, Leopold II of Belgium, will still be placed on a pedestal for the decades to come while other lowly yet greater people will be forgotten and discriminated.
The main protagonists, altogether seem to represent something more than their own Characters. As the play got along, it became striking that, for me at least, Andersen and Dickens represented the colonial powers and their illegitimate authority. Indeed, in depicting a childish and immature Andersen though underlining as well his harsh and authoritative treatment of Marjory, one can only draw a parallel with the colonial powers who drew on the resources of Africa while mistreating and killing large parts of the population. Such important themes are placed in a fantastic décor. With the help of a moving stage, the costumes, the decors and an accurate use of props one is able to constantly follow the play.
Nonetheless, the timeline, with some characters of the future coming back to haunt the present is somewhat confusing. Similarly, the play, with its first objective of offending and being humorous, can lack sometimes of a certain intellectuality on the different serious topics it discusses such as slavery, the killings of millions in the Congo along with Europe's belief of having a cultural superiority; underlined through Andersen's disregard of the real name of his Congolese captive.
All in all, ‘A Very Very Very Dark Matter’ is deeply humorous play in which McDonagh explores central themes of colonialism and the 19th Century altogether, many of which remain relevant today. The play 1h30 long play undeniably offers its audience a good-laugh, interesting questions and gives an interesting outlook on different central aspects of our society of today.
Bridge Theatre - Until January 6th; 15 to 65 pounds