‘A Very Very Very Dark Matter’ review: Martin McDonagh pushes new boundaries in this edgy comedy

Jim Broadbent is hysterical in a production that is classic McDonagh: hilarious, dark and absolutely bonkers –

There’s a degree of newfound self-awareness and confidence in McDonagh’s latest production. The humour is edgier and the plot is his most absurd yet – and he knows it.

In a house in Copenhagen, Hans Christian Andersen (hilariously and comfortably portrayed by Broadbent – an actor known for playing bumbling, over-enthusiastic characters) has a secret hiding in a box in his attic in Copenhagen. A Very Very Very Dark Matter is an apt description of what unfolds.

As much as the play reaches new extremes for the Irish playwright, there’s the usual McDonagh tropes dotted throughout the plot. Striking similarities with The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Ryan Pope and Graeme Hawley play the two antagonists trying to hunt down and kill one of the lead characters. Except this time it’s two red men named Dirk and Barry from Belgium.

Outside the role of being daft comic relief, the pair’s part in the story centres historical grudges and time travel. It’s to be expected from such a production, but its execution – save from a couple of laygis confusing and somewhat meaningless on a larger scale.

Perhaps the funniest chemistry comes from Andersen’s interactions with fellow author Charles Dickens (Phil Daniels). Daniel’s bluntness and dry wit as Dickens mixes brilliantly with Broadbent’s charming, naive Andersen in scenes where most of the play’s one-liners can be found.

Contrast this with the scenes between Hans and young girl ‘Marjorie’ (Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles) where the play’s darker, serious side comes to light. Bold and sharp, it’s an impressive theatrical debut for Ackles.

Running for an hour and 30 minutes, A Very Very Very Dark Matter is short, but by no means sweet. Finely directed by Matthew Dunster, the short running time keeps things fast-paced and gripping, before leaving you wondering what the hell just happened.

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‘King Lear’ review – Ian McKellen plays the tragic role with blistering emotion and bravado

McKellen delivers a bold and striking performance as the ill-fated king in this epic Shakespearean tragedy – ★★★★☆

McKellen gazes out into the audience after an incredible three-hour performance at the theatre where he made his debut 54 years ago. There’s a feeling that this is a standout role in the actor’s incredible career – a bittersweet, personal reflection on a phenomenal acting history.

Ian McKellen (left) and Danny Webb (right) deliver bold performances as Lear and Gloucester respectively. Photo: Johan Persson.

“I’m not the first actor who has wanted to return to this play, as if unfinished business,” he writes in the official programme. “Perhaps it’s just that the closer you get to the King’s age, the more telling it becomes – for some, more a therapy than a job.” It’s a sentiment present on the stage – a portrayal which feels incredibly personal and reminiscent.

The production, a West End transfer from Chichester Festival Theatre, is one bravely directed by Jonathan Munby. While the first half of the production is a slow establishment of the main characters, the mid-show cliffhanger and second half is where this modernised retelling really comes to life. Ben and Max Ringham’s harsh, drum-heavy score brings a sense of urgency to the story, and Lucy Cullingford and Kate Waters choreography work – as movement director and fight director respectively – maintain the tense and eccentric tones of Shakespeare’s work.

It’s a sense of elegance that also comes with the performances, too. James Corrigan’s Edmund is one of cunning villainy, brilliantly expressive to the extent that his lines are completely accessible to a modern audience. Luke Thompson (Edgar) and Danny Webb (Gloucester) work perfectly as individuals, but also as a duo, effortlessly bouncing off each other’s lines to create two broken characters worthy of the audience’s empathy.

With immersive set designs from Paul Wills – to the extent that even the fake rain smells of petrichor – King Lear feels more like a cinematic film than a stage production (one images those who saw the recent NT Live showing of the play will agree). Yet, of course, theatregoers would expect nothing less for such a legendary star of both stage and film.

King Lear is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre until 3 November. 16 to 25 year olds can purchase £5 tickets on the day through the Chichester Theatre’s Prologue scheme.

‘Heathers: The Musical’ review – Carrie Hope Fletcher storms the stage in this wild play full of big fun

Wacky, edgy and off-the-scale, actress and YouTuber Carrie Hope Fletcher leads a stellar cast in a production bursting with energy and enthusiasm – ★★★★★

A zany tale about the adventures at Westerberg High has attracted a whole new cult following 30 years after the movie was first released. As costumed audience members shout and cheer across multiple musical numbers, Fletcher is right to say that the show feels more like a rock concert than a musical.

Carrie Hope Fletcher (pictured) is sensational in this wacky musical based on the popular 80s film. Photo: Pamela Raith.

With bold, vibrant fanfare, songs such as Beautiful and Dead Girl Walking radiate confidence and passion as Fletcher demonstrates her powerful vocal ability as lead girl, Veronica Sawyer.

Swap these for the emotional Seventeen and we not only see a seamless switch to the more poignant side to the musical, but also the musician’s natural chemistry with Jamie Muscato’s sharp and menacing JD.

Such a chemistry extends out to the wider cast as the Heathers (Jodie Steele, Sophie Isaacs and T’Shan Willimans as Chandler, McNamara and Duke respectively) bounce off each other for brilliant comedic effect. Double-act Chris Chung and Dominic Anderson deliver hilarious performances as troublemakers Kurt and Ram and Andy Fickman’s imaginative direction quite literally shines in the magical Shine A Light.

One other notable performance is that of Jenny O’Leary, who plays the charming and loveable Martha Dunnstock. Verbally abused and bullied for most of the story, Martha’s number Kindergarten Boyfriend is perfectly executed in a way which is equally moving and heart-wrenching in nature.

With outstanding deliveries from the whole cast, it’s a production which shows off the collective’s familial chemistry, whilst also allowing each actor’s individual talents to shine.

Heathers: The Musical is a musical thrill ride which packs a punch. So much so that when the curtain falls, you’ll want to do it all over again.

Heathers: The Musical is now playing at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 24 November.

‘4.48 Psychosis’ review – Sarah Kane’s play gets a powerful retelling in this new bilingual production

Combining spoken English with British Sign Language (BSL), Deafinitely Theatre add a new, expressive dimension to Kane’s emotive writing in this bold exploration of mental health – ★★★★☆.

There’s an important underlying message in this version of Sarah Kane’s final play. Deaf health charity SignHealth says deaf people are twice as likely to experience mental health issues than those who are hearing, and that they struggle to access support due to communication barriers “which only make their symptoms worse”.

Photo: Becky Bailey.

As the cast navigate the small set, sealed off to the audience with three see-through panes, these barriers become physical and all the more visible. Actors Brian Duffy and Adam Bassett deliver strong performances as the two leads struggle to communicate their feelings to others.

Communication and language are, of course, so closely tied to mental health and support. In 4.48 Psychosis, we see written text projected onto the stage, floating across the screen and complimenting creative choreography and mesmerising mimed sign language. Spoken English merges with BSL to give Kane’s writing a new, expressive impact.

At times, the subtitles disappear and we are left with just sign language on the stage. For those who are not fluent in BSL, there’ll likely be times where it’s hard to figure out what’s being conveyed. Yet, when one considers the point about communication barriers, this perhaps alludes to a wider issue.

With impressive direction from Paula Garfield and strong performances from all four of the cast, Deafinitely Theatre’s latest production offers a new, raw take on an incredibly important subject.

4.48 Psychosis is now playing at the New Diorama Theatre until 13 October.

‘The Lehman Trilogy’ review – Sam Mendes directs this fast-moving and poetic tale of Western capitalism

Adam Godley, Ben Miles and Simon Russell Beale deliver phenomenal performances in this three hour-long epic exploring a detailed history of Western capitalism through the lens of one Bavarian family – ★★★★

They say the best things come in threes. In the case of the National Theatre’s sell-out show, The Lehman Trilogy, actors Godley, Miles and Russell Beale navigate Es Devlin’s incredible office space set with marvellous elegance and professionalism. Unique as individual actors and powerful as a group, the trio flow between multiple characters seamlessly in what is an incredible theatrical feat.

Photo: Mark Douet.

Away from the stage, adapter Ben Power, director Sam Mendes, designer Devlin and pianist Candida Caldicot’s collaboration gives this production its final classical polish. Power’s vibrant writing Live piano melodies from Caldicot heighten the  while Mendes’ direction feels suitably methodical on Devlin’s revolving set. It’s fast-moving – both in sense of chronology and choreography.

Such is the pace of the production that it can at times feel a lot to take in – the two intervals allowing the audience time to process each part of the time-travelling tale. This may sound worrying for a play exploring as complex an issue as the progress of Western capitalism, but explored through the lens of The Lehman Brothers, the wider points about economics, marketing and finance become clearer and more anecdotal.

Another grounding aspect of the trilogy, which also provides some wonderful charm and humour, are the little motifs which appear regularly throughout the production. Tightrope walkers, card dealers, shop signs and the announcement that one is about to “take my leave” are wonderful bursts of eccentricity which, together with incredible performances from the cast – breathe life into the financial world in which we find ourselves.

Three hours and three parts later, and there’s three well-deserved bows for a sensational trio of performers. Truly classical in nature, The Lehman Trilogy is a fine piece of immersive, three-dimensional theatre.

While standard tickets for The Lehman Trilogy at the Lyttleton Theatre are now sold out, day tickets can still be bought on the day of the performance and Friday Rush tickets are also available every week at 1pm. 16 to 25 year olds can also purchase tickets through the National Theatre Entry Pass scheme.

‘The Jungle’ review – a raw and important tale of community at the heart of the refugee crisis

Incredibly immersive and delivered by a phenomenal cast, The Jungle gets to the heart of the refugee crisis in an emotional tale of hope, community and companionship.

In the UK, the Calais Jungle and the refugee crisis have only been observed from afar. Media coverage shines a light on the issue, but there is still a degree of separation – a barrier instantly broken down in Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson’s latest production.

With singing and dancing too, this West End production is a brilliant piece of theatre. Photo: Marc Brenner.

If you’re lucky enough to get stall seats, then you find yourself in Miriam Buether’s ‘Afghan Cafe’, the stalls section which is very much part of the stage. Actors hand out leaflets about “another proposed eviction of the Jungle”, naans and drinks to audience members as they enter. Cultural music plays. The fourth wall is instantly broken, and you are immediately immersed in the environment.

It’s the sense of community which really shines through over the two hours and forty minutes, as cast members bounce off each other’s performances seamlessly and with ease.

So much so that there is not one overall stand-out actor. Ammar Haj Ahmad (who plays the main protagonist, Safi) delivers mesmerising monologues in an embracing and welcoming tone, whilst Ben Turner charms as the dedicated restaurant owner, Salah. Black Mirror star Alex Lawther is impressive as a British aid worker, and Trevor Fox offers some brilliant comic relief as Boxer.

Although fictional, Murphy and Robertson’s script does a phenomenal job of exploring the Calais Jungle with pure honesty. Okot (John Pfumojena)’s monologue about his attempt to make it to the UK is one of the most heartbreaking and moving parts of the play. Important points about the crisis are bluntly communicated throughout – as much as the play draws you in, it also leaves you with questions to ask once you’ve left your seat.

As such, The Jungle stands as both an excellent and important work of theatre and as one of the most important plays to see this year. Thought-provoking, moving and incredibly immersive, this must-see production is exactly what theatre should be.

Rating: 5/5

The Jungle is now playing at The Playhouse Theatre in London from now until the 3 November.

‘Consent’ review – Nina Raine’s thought-provoking elaborate production raises many questions in a tense blend of love and justice

In a detailed exploration of love, justice and the law, Consent raises a lot of questions for the audience to ponder – both curious and confusing ones.

One would think that such confusion would come from the technicalities of the play being one of a legal nature, but Raine’s research shines confidently throughout in the writing. Instead, in a production which explores the many relationships of the characters on stage, what starts as a straightforward tale expands into something far more complex and puzzling.

From left: Adam James, Stephen Campbell Moore, Lee Ingleby, Clare Foster and Claudie Blakley. Credit: Johan Persson

Thankfully, this doesn’t stop Raine from raising some interesting points in the dialogue of her characters. The History Boys’ Stephen Campbell Moore and The A Word‘s Lee Ingleby are amongst the cast who deliver powerful performances and showcase excellent character development. The atmosphere’s tense, and the individuals three-dimensional – often expressing contrasting opinions throughout, which is particularly interesting to see.

Mix the topic of the play and the characters with a classical score and limited set design, and things start to feel a little more intense. Yet such a tone and pace for a play which explores many ideas does lead to some points being lost. It’s upon re-reading the play text that you begin to see some of the foreshadowing and wider, underlying discussions.

An impressive cast and excellent dialogue feature in Consent, but as the plot develops, some of the production’s underlying points get lost along the way.

Rating: 3.5/5