‘A Very Very Very Dark Matter’ review

Theatre, Comedy
3 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars
(35user reviews)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
1/9
© Manuel Harlan Johnetta Eula'Mae Ackles (Marjory) and Jim Broadbent (Hans) 
 (© Manuel Harlan)
2/9
© Manuel Harlan Jim Broadbent (Hans)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
3/9
© Manuel Harlan Jim Broadbent (Hans)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
4/9
© Manuel Harlan Jim Broadbent (Hans)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
5/9
© Manuel Harlan Jim Broadbent (Hans) and Phil Daniels (Dickens)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
6/9
© Manuel Harlan Jim Broadbent (Hans) James Roberts (Charles Jr) Regan Garcia (Walter) Audrey Hayhurst (Kate) Elizabeth Berrington (Catherine) & Phil Daniels (Dickens) 
 (© Manuel Harlan)
7/9
© Manuel Harlan Johnetta Eula'Mae Ackles (Marjory)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
8/9
© Manuel Harlan Phil Daniels (Dickens) and Jim Broadbent (Hans) 
 (© Manuel Harlan)
9/9
© Manuel Harlan Phil Daniels (Dickens), Elizabeth Berrington (Catherine) and Jim Broadbent (Hans)

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Martin McDonagh returns with a bizarre postcolonial parable about the secrets in Hans Christian Andersen’s attic

Still fresh-ish from his biggest mainstream success to date with ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’, Martin McDonagh returns in his playwright guise with what is comfortably the most WTF thing he’s ever done.

‘A Very Very Very Dark Matter’ is, I guess, a sort of lurid postcolonial parable, in which Jim Broadbent’s excitable, childish Hans Christian Andersen is revealed to have had all his iconic stories written for him by Marjory (striking young US newcomer Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles), a diminutive Congolese woman he keeps imprisoned in a box in his creepy, puppet-filled attic.

It is difficult to entirely understand why McDonagh, whose plays have hitherto been largely concerned with fictitious English and Irish characters, decided that Andersen would be the best central figure for what I am calling a savage but cryptic allegory for the means by which Western culture is built upon the back of colonial plunder. I suppose it’s because his stories so successfully became part of the Western consciousness at the height of a colonial era which they make no allusion to.

I’m aware of people who’ve seen it who felt it was gratuitously offensive and/or racist. I mean, sure, there's a lot of swearing, but I honestly think it’s sincere about the evils of colonialism and, in particular, the horrors of the Belgian-instigated genocide in the Congo. And I think McDonagh is sincere about pointing out that all this was wilfully ignored by the great Victorian storytellers who did so much to shape Western self-image. But I’d be lying if I said all this was crystal clear: the play is indulgent, opaque and messy, and risks coming across as more offensive than it probably is simply because its intent isn’t all that clear. It’s difficult to imagine that a playwright of less standing than McDonagh would possibly be able to get something as weird as this off the ground in a theatre the size of the Bridge.

All this accepted I kind of enjoyed ‘A Very Very Very Dark Matter’: in part because of the Grand Guignol lunacy of Matthew Dunster’s production and Anna Fleischle's gothic set, in part because Broadbent’s Andersen is kind of brilliant, a feckless, infantile buffoon with a hysterical sense of entitlement (considering his entire career is based upon an enormous lie) who is, nonetheless, perversely loveable in his sweetly naive complacency. Particularly funny is the sequence where he goes to stay with Phil Daniels’s baleful Charles Dickens, who clearly detests him, though Andersen is completely oblivious and blithely outstays his welcome.

Did I mention the ghost Belgians? Or the time travelling? Or the haunted accordion? Or the rambling voiceover from the actual Tom Waits? And that all this happens in just an hour and 20 minutes? ‘A Very Very Very Dark Matter’ is a car crash in many respects, but the actual production has a sort of malevolent brio that lingers long after you’ve given up trying to figure out what McDonagh was on when he wrote it.

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Users say (35)

3 out of 5 stars

Average User Rating

2.8 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:3
  • 4 star:8
  • 3 star:10
  • 2 star:7
  • 1 star:7
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2 of 2 found helpful

The worst play I have ever watched. This took offensive middle aged white guys to a whole new level. I can't believe a play was created simply for a bunch of whites to get together and create a safe haven where they can laugh at what racist, sexist, xenophobic scum they all are. It is not funny to laugh about cutting off the hands and feet of millions of Africans. It is not funny to laugh about the European rape of Africa. It is not funny for English people to sit there laughing about the Irish Famine, the famine their English ancestors caused. I cannot imagine a group of Germans sitting there laughing about killing Jews. So how is it even Remotely acceptable for a group of majority Englsih to sit there laughing about all the disgusting things their own ancestors took part in? This play was turned down by the Royal Court Theatre for being offensive. The Bridge Theatre taking up a play that was rejected for being too vile doesn't make them a good theatre it makes them a group of old, out dated white men that refuse to understand that they and their disgusting thoughts have no place anymore. Just becuase the playwright is famous doesn't mean they can be as vile, and racist as they like. Truly horrible.

1 of 1 found helpful
Tastemaker

McDonagh excells at dark comedy, but for that to work, the comedy needs to be there. And it ain't here. This play feels like he was shooting the shit with a friend while sharing psychedelic drugs, and decided to see how far he could test an audience's patience and goodwill. 

1 of 1 found helpful

If you want to see a room full of middle-aged and elderly British people laughing at racist and chauvinist jokes, as well as hear lots of swearing, this is your play. The most bizarre thing I have ever seen.

1 of 1 found helpful

This was unbelievably bad. Political incorrectness is fine and needed, but there has to be at least some wit or interesting dialogue in delivering it. Adding the F or C word does not make an unfunny line funny. Might as well go listen to Frankie Boyle if this is what you like. Dreadful acting (Broadbent included) and ridiculous plot - if it could be called that. Be warned - no interval, so no early escape without making a fuss. Zero stars.

Tastemaker

I must admit, after seeing this play with a friend, we both went on a google frenzy for all explanations for what we had just seen! Yes, this play is far from politically correct and at times I wasn't quite sure how to react!! However, if you appreciate it as a huge shocking stretch of the imagination from Martin McDonagh, with deep underlying messages, then you will enjoy it. The set was incredible and Johnetta Eula'Mae Ackles as Marjory really steals the show with Jim Broadbent also portrays Hans brilliantly! I would recommend this show, there isn't another like it! 

tastemaker

This is a very odd and bizarre play. The premise is quite preposterous and if I was more English I think I would be able to appreciate the dark humor more. It's definitely high in shock value and both sets (Christian Anderson and Charles Darwin's) are beautifully constructed.

Tastemaker

This play appeals to a certain sense of humour.  If you don't like shows such as the League of Gentlemen, then there is a good chance that you will hate this play.


However, my husband and I do love this sort of humour and we thought this play was brilliant.  It is very very dark and very very weird, yet oddly, some of it is based on historic fact!  One of the highlights was the visit of Hans to Charles Darwin's, I mean Dicken's house where he badly outstayed his welcome.  Apparently that did actually happen.


It was a ridiculous play and I only had a general idea of what was going on, mainly because it was meant that way rather than the story being over complicated.  We came out wondering what we had just seen but knowing that we had thoroughly enjoyed it.



tastemaker

This play is only for a particular kind of people...but I'm not one of them.

I enjoyed the set design and seeing Jim Broadbent on stage was a good experience, but I had a really hard time trying to enjoy the play in general.

I'm a fan of the bizarre, the twisted, the avant-garde, but the plot was confusing for me, full of offensive sentences and self-serving "fucks" (I mean, yes, it's funny when the legendary Hans Cristian Andersen says fuck for the first time, but for the 30th time I was rather bored by it).

So, for me the very very dark matter was very very much of a disappointment.

Tastemaker

Captivating, dark & offensive, this is one of the most original pieces of theatre to come to London in a long time. Not everyone is going to be a fan - hell, a percentage of the watching audience at any given show are probably going to hate it - but given that Martin McDonagh's CV bulges with films like 'Seven Psychopaths', 'In Bruges' and 'Three Billboards...', you hopefully won't be surprised by the 80 minutes that he's created here. 


Taking one of literature's most recognisable figures and turning him into a ridiculous, pompous, silly, dark-souled, nonchalant buffoon of a man is an unexpected take on someone we think we know through history. Making him both a kidnapper & a murderer at the same time only adds to the intrigue and as Hans Christian Anderson, Jim Broadbent proves that's he's as wonderful a presence on stage as he is on screen. Lanky and full of befuddlement, he's absolutely superb, relishing every shocking scene & every gasp-inducing word and clearly having the time of his life, more than ably supported by Johnetta Eula'Mae Ackles as the fiery, feisty Marjory, a woman living a life she could never have imagined at the hands of a man I found myself unable to hate despite his obvious less-than-likeable personality. I loved the fact that despite every obvious hardship afflicted upon her, Marjory never seemed like a victim and although I couldn't have seen the end coming that did, when it arrived, I loved it. 


The thing I loved most about this was that I never predicted what was coming next. Blood-soaked Belgian ghosts, a perpetually grumpy Charles Dickens (played beautifully by a somewhat under-used but always gruffly barking Phil Daniels), gravelly but syrupy voiceovers, blackly humourous language touched with melancholy & streaked with a bitter desire for revenge, excellent use of the stage, laugh-out-loud moments followed by actions that made me physically wince, an unexpected ending complete with dangerous swagger & smoking cigars...there was so much about this that was unexpected which made it all the more intriguing. At less than half the running time of most West End shows, the brevity was well considered because for all that I enjoyed watching it, I doubt I could have sat through 3 hours and left feeling as positive as I did. If you search the London theatre landscape for works that are compelling, unusual & thought-provoking, McDonagh's Bridge Theatre debut will give you exactly what you're looking for but make no mistake, this is a fairy-tale with the blackest of hearts and one more destined to give nightmares than deliver a happily-ever-after.

tastemaker

A good piece of art can be quite divisive and judging by the reviews below, A Very Very Dark Matter has been triumphant in achieving that. If I was to choose one word to describe it, the play was very bizarre, even confusing at times. However, that's exactly what I loved about the play. Taking prolific writers of mankind and giving it a dark twist is absolutely genius. 


Be warned though, there is a very very high chance that you may not like it, but I certainly did. 

tastemaker

They weren’t lying when they said it was very, very, very dark. The stage was dark, the story was dark and the humour was dark. At an hour and a half long with no interval and an engaging story line, it was a very digestible and enjoyable play. Nothing felt drawn out, the humour was not overdone and the acting was very good. The standout performance came from the lead female though Jim Broadbent was great too. I would recommend it to anyone that doesn’t mind a bit of fake gore and the odd c word.

tastemaker

Not for me I'm afraid; a complete marmite-effect of a play. I was regretfully on the 'not for me' side of the spectrum. The subtle tone of jingoism made me cringe throughout and - albeit very much liking the works of Broadbent & McDonagh and being prepared for McDonagh's dark comedic scripts - I didn't enjoy this piece at all. 


Repetition of jokes (HCA's overstay in Dickens' house) was funny once (if at all), however was completely overdone in what some considered the highlight of the play. 


Sadly cannot go further than one star here. 

tastemaker

I really do love weird and surreal so this was absolutely up my street, don't go and see if you are easily offended have no imagination or from Belgium. I could watch Jim Broadbent read out the yellow pages and he captured the essence of Hans' well known ego perfectly. The Bridge theater is a beautiful contemporary space and a joy to be in itself. There is a fabulous Christmas market currently between city hall and Hay's Galleria so go early, enjoy a mulled wine & bratwurst before the performance. 



Tastemaker

I thought I would take a couple of days to process this performance before writing my review, in case anything became clearer to me.....it hasn't. 


I am a huge Martin McDonagh fan, In Bruges is one of my favourite films, so I was prepared for the language and 'shock factor' that his scripts tend to bring and that some reviews reference. What I wasn't prepared for was the lack of structure and substance to the play. It definitely wasn't as dark as some of his work, or as dark as some reviews implied, so that was actually a little disappointing.  The casting was well done, however in parts even the actors seemed a little confused/thrown off and dare I say pantomime-esque. Perhaps that is what they are going for.


There were jokes that were repeated several times which seemed to really tickle some members of the audience. Personally I found them all quick, cheap and easy jokes that raised a small smile the first time, by the fourth time it was all a bit tiresome. 


The theatre itself is lovely, one of the nicest I have been to in London and with the new development next door there are lots of food and drink spots opening up for pre and post theatre. I am sure I will visit again but definitely not to see A Very Very Very Dark Matter. 



tastemaker

It's difficult to know what to say.


In truth I'd read a few reviews before seeing A Very Very Very Dark Matter, so I wasn't particularly shocked by the performance - I was actually expecting a little more creepy and a lot more dark. Martin McDonagh is known for his dark comedy and for writing a little closer to the edge than some would be comfortable with, so in that respect he did not disappoint. Following the narrative definitely took the audience to bizarre places. The cast were a perfect match.


While I found myself chuckling in places, I found joy in the very loud and very hard laughter I could hear from a select few. These few were Martin’s target audience.


I’m not entirely sure what the message of this play was, I could speculate wildly but I think it would ruin your own “What just happened” moment.


I’d give it a 3.5 if I could give half stars.

Tastemaker

I was really pretty ill when I saw this so perhaps my mood somewhat altered my perceptions but, overall, it's pretty poor. I should have taken the relatively empty auditorium as a sign of what was to come - I couldn't believe it was written by such a great screenwriter as Martin Mcdonagh, I had to double check at the end that I wasn't mistaken. 


I'm perfectly comfortable with filthy language but generally feel, in art, it requires some context. Here, it is entirely used as a cheap device to attempt to 'shock' the audience. It seemed to be working for most of those under 20 but fell completley flat for me, although there was the odd bit of thought out, semi-intelligent comedy, albeit fleetingly. 


Speaking of which, I am impressed that The Bridge is trying to be inclusive to a younger theatre audience but I would prefer it to be done with better plays. Adding to that, the person sat next to me was quite possibly the rudest theatre goer I have encountered in all my life. 


Being a Bridge virgin, I was impressed with the space and I do enjoy a play that runs straight through with no interval, so I guess that's something...

Tastemaker

I don't really know what to say about this other than:

1) This was very, very, very weird.

2) Jim Broadbent was funny

3) It was massively non-PC. If you're easily offended, don't go. 


It really was exceptionally random. 

tastemaker

Many of the comments below reference the offensiveness/insensitivity of this play and how this overshadowed all else. I would argue that because this offensiveness wasn't taken far enough which is why the play lingered between surreal irreverence and trying to make a point about post colonialism. Either end of the spectrum would have been a better, more effective use of the one hour, twenty minute run time. 


Looking around the room of attendees, it was clear to see on some levels what the author was aiming for: a shock factor reserved exclusively for middle class white people, triggered by the over use of swearing and racist jokes. 


That being said, there was the occasional bit of wit, it's just a shame that such a brilliant writer, who has created some of my favourite screen plays is the author of something so lacklustre. Perhaps he should employed a Congolese pygmy to write it instead. 

tastemaker

A Very Very Very Dark Matter wasn't anywhere near as dark as imagined, but rather an hour and 15 minutes of  laughter! It was short and sweet, wonderfully entertaining and Jim Broadbent was (of course) brilliant. Definitely worth seeing, but not suitable for the kids!

tastemaker

An odd and quirky play, nothing like anything I've seen before. There were some pretty funny parts, it was light-hearted yet serious in some parts, and a little bit gory. I appreciated that it was only an hour and a half play, as I think that's as much as I could take. I didn't expect it to play out the way it did but it was enjoyable!

Tastemaker

Once upon a there was a very talented author. His name was Martin McDonagh.Everybody loved his work and he wrote some wonderfully funny plays and some wonderfully clever scripts for films. However, Mr McDonagh had a terrible secret!

Do you remember Shakespeare's infinite monkeys at infinite typewriters? Well, Martin had stolen the most talented of Shakespeare's monkeys. He kept her chained to the typewriter and in reality, it was she, who ghost wrote all of his stuff.....(this is not in the play, although maybe a sequel!)

This play is full of ideas, some good, some less so and it has touches of brilliance. Using Tom Waits as narrator, even though he is voice only, is a moment of genius. I also loved Phil Daniels as a foul mouthed Charles Dickens. Johnetta Eula'Mae Ackles has a very troubling role as Marjory and carries it off well.

One thing you can certainly say about A Very Very Very Dark Matter is that you will not be bored!


tastemaker

Simply weird in the weirdest way possible. There were moments of amusement as we watched Hans Christian Anderstand flob his way through everything he did. Yes, I did say flob. And if you don't understand that, you're pretty close to the mark! Plenty of swearing. Ok. Racist insults to almost every country imaginable. Not ok. Religion never mentioned. Very ok. Keeping a black African dwarf locked up in a box in his attic. Definitely not ok. Odd but with a peculiar smile attached.

tastemaker

I didn't get the chance to research the plot at all before seeing the show and therefore had no idea what to expect.  The cast is jam-packed of highly talented actors, including Phil Daniels as a hilarious and offensive Dickens.


I expected Jim Broadbent to be fantastic and he was.  Despite being a cruel and offensive protagonist, he still came across as a fairly loveable character.


The storyline needs some concentration, as anything with an aspect of time travel often gets confusing, but it was still enjoyable from start to finish.


This play is stacked full of talent, laughs and will also have you questioning the history of Hans Christian Andersen long after you've left the theatre.


Definitely worth a watch, but I wouldn't recommend bringing your gran or kids along, as there is quite a lot of swearing!


tastemaker

I came out of this show genuinely questioning what I just watched, but in a good way.


Storyline sends you all over place. One moment you're laughing and the next there's blood everywhere.


The cast are standout as I found myself sucked into their characters. Did I know what was going on....not a clue.Definately worth a watch for somethin completely different.





Tastemaker

This is possibly the most WTF play you'll watch all year but it's no less enjoyable. 


It's a parable with the premise that is enough to draw the incurably curious. Hans Christian Anderson, played by the excellent and child-like Jim Broadbent, is discovered to have had all his memorable stories (think The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling etc.) all written by a small Congolese woman he keeps imprisoned in his attic.


What follows are a sequence of scenes, all dark and humorous.


It is easy to see how this can be offensive to some audiences what with the good dose of swear words thrown in and jokes about race. But I don't think the intent is ever to offend. There's a message behind it all. But the scenes are chaotic which makes that message hard to decipher. 


Aside from all of this, I enjoyed A Very Very Very Dark Matter. I loved the gothic stage, the child-like character of Hans Christian Andersen, and I particularly enjoyed the hilarious scenes where Hans goes to stay with Charles Dickens, who clearly dislikes him.


There's much more to it not to mention the rambling overhead voice and the deadly accordion. I found it hard to distil this parable and its cryptic meanings. I eventually gave up and just enjoyed the jokes onstage, and found it to be quite good fun. 

tastemaker

After seeing the play last night and having time to process what I saw, I am still not sure how to rate this one. The stage set was great, really well thought out and had lots going on and the actors were brilliant however, I found the story quite hard to follow especially the time travel parts. Some funny parts but mostly I was confused...

tastemaker

This is quite a possibly the most bizarre piece of theatre I have ever seen. There are some funny moments and the set is brilliant but there are moments that are completely cringe worthy and for large parts (anything to do with the time travel) I was completely lost.

I do feel that it’s important to state that I don’t believe the play itself is racists as some other have comments, but a reflection of the attitude at the time and of colonialism on the whole.

I’m writing this an hour later and I’m still totally confused.


Frankly quite shocked to hear so many bad reviews, and there was audible grumblings as we left the theatre. It was certainly incredibly bizarre but from my perspective there was very little not to like. 

tastemaker

IGNORE ALL THE OTHER REVIEWS, THEY DO NOT KNOW OF WHAT THEY SPEAK...


I see a very large number of productions every year. Most disappoint. I went with a friend who doesn't see so many productions and both of us thoroughly enjoyed this show.  Some wonderfully written jokes; Jim Broadbent is wonderful and so too is the actor who plays Charles Dickens and  sets were wonderfully detailed.


It is extremely dark and often uncomfortable to watch. I did get a bit of a feeling that I was watching a Tales of the Unexpected story at some points. All this talk of racism is just baloney. It's very much NOT racist. The characters are racist (at least some of them are) but the script isn't... it's a reflection of the time it's written in and to ignore that would be simply whitewashing history. 


It's a short production and it bounces along quite quickly. I did feel the whole time travelling aspect was a tad distracting and quite confusing and most definitely unnecessary; but GO AND SEE IT. 

tastemaker

Its certainly a bizarre play, no interval so first warning but its not long at all (1hr 20 ish) 

It is a very dark humour and it certainly isnt very diverse, touches of racism but the acting is strong and comical. I think the actors have done well with humour and delivery of the lines. If you get easily offended then dont go see this. 


tastemaker

Really, really, really awful. Martin McDonagh has written such great stuff, this is a real disappointment. Jim Broadbent, who has saved a number of unremarkable shows, can do nothing to save this. It is totally juvenile, witless, & offensively silly. The Christmas turkey has landed . If you feel you have to see this play, do it now - I can't believe it will ever be revived.

tastemaker

I don't really know what exactly it was that I saw.

A friend pointed out that Martin McDonagh once said that he hates writing for the stage, and if this is the case, then A Very, Very, Very Dark Matter seems to be an experiment in what he can get away with and still have it staged. The whole thing appeared gratuitously experimental, to the extent that the bizarreness seemed like strangeness for strangeness sake - there was no point to it.

I didn't resent having seen it, but there are definitely better ways to spend your time.


I actually think the script was the best thing about it. Yes the content was gross and disturbing, but hands up who didn't learn a thing or three about how awful the Belgians were in Africa? In an age where I can turn on my TV and hear vox pops of people saying I voted for Brexit, we need to bring back the empire, I actually think the content is quite timely. Western nations were built on blood shed of millions - having that presented in a comedic and unflinching manner - and to the muddling middle classes is no bad thing in my book. To be fair I saw it in previews, but it was very clunky and unready performance wise. The set was great, but so much clumsy prop work....it was distracting.  Phil Daniels was amazing - the whole thing lifted when he was on stage. The dead Belgians were good. Jim B wasn't quite script perfect, but I did love what he was doing with the character. Newcomer Johnetta Ackles can certainly land a comedic line - it's a huge part for her to carry and she did well overall, but it needed work. If you're going - go later in the run I say. 

As to it being a room full of white people laughing - well, that's the Bridge Theatre for you. I've seen everything there since it opened, and have never been able to count more than a handful of other black faces in the audience. Diverse audiences are not their thing. 


Absolutely dreadful. Gratuitous swearing played for laughs for an hour and a half without any sort of context or actual wit to justify its place. As a natural sceptic of political correctness and boundaries on comedy, I was surprised that I found the racial politics of it in such extremely poor taste. The problem wasn’t that it was offensive per se, but the subject matter of its humour seemed callous and malicious. It wasn’t so much sending up prejudice as providing a safe space for its largely privileged audience to laugh at the expense of historical and present racial hierarchies.


That aside, the jokes were juvenile and very on the nose - lots of swearing, loud voices, unsubtle modern references and self-congratulatory revelling in the attitudes and sensibilities of the middle class. It’s not often I don’t enjoy the theatre as sometimes the most mediocre show can be elevated by the medium and the simple joy of being present, but I spent the entirety of this show squirming at the show (and the reaction of its audience) willing it to end.

tastemaker

You wouldn't recognise Jim Broadbent from films, strolling round the stage with a wig and an assumed Paul Merton voice and demeanour,  This play is certainly wacky and mostly fantastical.   However, I found it amusingly outrageous in parts, particularly in the scene at dinner with Charles Dawkins "sorry I mean Dickens" and family.  Go prepared to be amused and don't expect to be any the wiser about the real Hans Christian Andersen's life story.