What if Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy-tales were in fact written by a one-legged Congolese pygmy woman that he kept imprisoned in a wooden box? If this idea delights and intrigues you, don’t miss the gothic madness of ‘A Very Very Very Dark Matter’ at the Bridge Theatre.

Writer, Martin McDonagh is not afraid to re-imagine the history of our favourite children’s author, dismantling the male dominated literary canon and examining colonialism (seriously), in a twisted rampage of his imagination. Whilst Hans is stealing Marjorie’s stories, the Belgians are about to steal the lives of ten million Congolese and with the power of time-travel, she is determined to stop them. Along the way, there are many laughs, mostly intended to offend (as many nationalities as possible) with Charles Dickens’ children, the most foul-mouthed of a pretty nasty lot.

Matthew Dunster has brought together an exceptional cast lead by Jim Broadbent as Danish fairy-tale master, Hans Christian Anderson and Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles as Marjory (Hans refuses to call her by her African name - too hard to pronounce). American actress Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles makes an extraordinary London debut as Hans’ prisoner and the author of his success. She hobbles painfully across the stage, bearing the weight of the world, but never falling into despair. Trapped in the present she may be, but the future will be hers. It’s a captivating, finely nuanced performance.

Jim Broadbent is a bumbling, vain savage of a man – who genuinely believes that he is a nice chap, winning the audience round with his jokes whilst parading acts of violence and oppression. One of his favourite games with his Marjorie is to offer her freedom from the box for the evening. In return, he is allowed to practice his favourite pastime, carpentry, reducing the size of her box by an inch each time.

Anna Fleischle’s stunning gothic attic hung with spooky marionettes is contrasted with Charles Dickens very English dining room, which rises from the floor to reveal his entire family in grand portrait style. Charles Dickens, a furious womaniser with an even more furious wife, played by Phil Daniels and Elizabeth Berrington, is driven insane by the ramblings of the Dane who suspects that he too has a ‘Marjorie’. Apparently Hans did spend five weeks with Dickens, a fact that McDonagh runs with as the entire scene is spent with Dickens family trying to get him to leave. Intent on pushing the comedy to an extreme, it did at times feel like a brilliant sketch, at the expense of developing the overall drama.

Though some elements mis-fire, there is much to recommend Martin McDonagh’s wild, unapologetic satire, which puts the current trend for gender swapping roles into the shade. For despite her imprisonment, sex, race and disability, Marjorie is a powerful, ingenious, warrior and author of the great mans success. It’s a great female role and Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles is undoubtedly the star of this show. Let’s hope we see more of her in London.

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