WhatsOnStage Logo
Home link
Review Round-Ups

Did critics find A Very Very Very Dark Matter very very very good?

Find out what critics thought of Martin McDonagh's latest play

Johnetta Eula'Mae Ackles (Marjory) in A Very Very Very Dark Matter
© Manuel Harlan

Fergus Morgan, WhatsOnStage

★★

"...it feels weird to say this about a chap who recently received two Oscar nods for Three Billboards, it's really quite bad. Amateurish even."

"It's built around a premise that McDonagh's toyed around with before in other work – a famous writer, who doesn't actually produce his own stuff, but cruelly forces someone else to do it for him. In this case, we're in nineteenth-century Denmark, and Hans Christian Andersen is keeping a lame, black, Congolese pygmy – his questionable terminology – in a constricted mahogany box in his attic.

"And without the brutal hubris or the brutal humour, the problematic nature of McDonagh's play, often excused in his other work, has nowhere to hide. The racial stereotyping, the Tarantino-esque violence, the wilful subversion of much-loved literary figures – it doesn't feel cheeky or charming, it feels offensive and irresponsible and, well, childish. "

"[The] performances are swallowed up by the slackness surrounding them. Matthew Dunster's production doesn't know where to go or what to do on Anna Fleischle's puppet-filled Santa's grotto of a set."



Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph

★★★

"The preposterous scenario of A Very Very Very Dark Matter, the latest play by veteran troublemaker Martin McDonagh, is nigh-on calculated to provoke howls of outrage.

"...look closely and you can just detect a wisp of acceptable rationale for McDonagh's monumental act of presumption. An imaginative act, even one that's slipshod and fake, can have its own veracity, and serve, in its bare-bones way, as a redress for the powerless and voiceless."

"I'm aware that the convolutions I'm having to go through to put the case for the show serve as a warning that this is a tricksy, awkward night out. "

"It's great that the Bridge is opening its doors to theatre's renegades, but it mustn't become home to second-division scripts – especially those around which there hangs more than a whiff of the Emperor's new clothes."



Andrzej Lukowski Time Out

★★★

"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 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 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 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 Anderson is kind of brilliant, a feckless, infantile buffoon with a hysterical sense of entitlement."



l-r Jim Broadbent (Hans) and Phil Daniels (Dickens)
© Manuel Harlan



Ann Treneman, The Times

★★★★

"The fearless Matthew Dunster directs what is, really, the Fairytale Author's New Clothes. Jim Broadbent is excellent as the egocentric, cruel, racist and (at times) hilarious Andersen. His vanity is there for all to see, as he appears at a celebration of the publication of The Little Mermaid (who, as you may know, endures piercing pain in order to get human legs)."

"Targets include the Chinese, Belgians, colonialism, war and (why?) Spaniards. There is a time travel riff that doesn't work but there are also wonderful scenes that record in exquisite detail the disastrous visit that Andersen made to Charles Dickens (whom Andersen keeps calling "Darwin") played by a razor-sharp Phil Daniels."

"A Very Very Very Dark Matter is going to split opinions. But who wants to be a "sitter on a fencer", as Andersen might say? I would go again. But, please, don't take the children."



Tim Bano, The Stage

★★

"McDonagh pushes buttons as he usually does. He revels in the grotesquery of physical differences and deformities. The body count is fairly high. This is the most explicitly political his work has been for a while, but it's also his most incomprehensible play. The Congo plot is tacked on like an afterthought. It makes no sense and yet, if you take it away, the play seems flimsy and pointless.

"Of course you could read it as a metaphor for the exercise of imagination in stories, but again McDonagh has already outdone himself on that theme. Or the mythologising of famous authors. Or white oppression, colonialism, and appropriation. It's hard to tell."

"What is clear, and this maybe the show's biggest fault, is that it's nowhere near as funny or entertaining as anything he's written previously."



Paul Taylor, The Independent

★★★

"Martin McDonagh is a very very very hot property at the moment...I wish I could say that it meets expectations but to my mind this determinedly dark and twisted fable is sadly lacking in emotional and intellectual nuance."

"If [it] is meant to satirise the casual racism of Europe's colonial exploitation of Africa, I have to say that the politically incorrect comedy of it struck me as bit self-indulgent. I wasn't that fond of McDonagh's play The Pillowman (2003)... But it says a lot more about the vexed relationship between art and the world than this one does. "

"Matthew Dunster directs the packed, sometimes baffling 90 minutes with flair. It's all go, that's for sure. "

Jim Broadbent (Hans)
© Manuel Harlan
Loading...