Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Theatre review: My Eyes Went Dark

I don't know if it's the fact that there's multiple Oresteias in London at the moment, but I saw something of that tragedy in microcosm in Matthew Wilkinson's My Eyes Went Dark. Here, too, the death of a child - or children - sets off a cycle of blame and revenge that, in a more heightened theatrical style, would have meant generations of bloodshed. But here the initial tragic events are kicked off by accident rather than cold calculation, and the avenging Fury is a man who allows his grief to become his entire personality. Nikolai (Cal MacAninch) comes from a remote part of Russia, but is working abroad when his wife and children, en route to visit him, are killed in a plane crash. Within hours of the accident, he's seeking someone to blame for his loss, and when it turns out an overworked air traffic controller made a mistake, Nikolai develops an obsession with him.

As a study of grief My Eyes Went Dark is pretty unusual, as from early on it portrays the grieving father in a surprisingly unsympathetic way.

Disappointed with the results of the inquiry, Nikolai's grief clearly shifts into a desire for pure revenge, and even into a kind of narcissism that refuses to see anything - even the feelings of other bereaved people - as equally important. MacAninch's performance has a chilling calmness from the start, which resolves itself into an idea of grief as a form of sociopathy - something that comes to a head when he confronts the air traffic controller.

By contrast, Thusitha Jayasundera plays every other character, most of whom only have a single appearance, and she clearly differentiates between them not just with a variety of accents, but also by subtly bringing out their different attitudes and emotions; from an opportunistic photographer, to a child traumatized when she gets too close to Nikolai's all-consuming grief.

Wilkinson also directs a spare production on Bethany Wells's bare traverse stage, which strips things back so Elliot Griggs's lighting becomes the main design element, focusing us on the performances. The play's first half, building up to the central encounter, is the stronger part; there's some interesting mirroring of events in the second half, but the idea of Nikolai's own crimes turning him into a folk hero who capitalises on them, feels like it belongs in a longer play that could better explore it. Given the puzzle-like way the story is told, I was also hoping we'd get an explanation for why Nikolai was actually the one to discover his daughter's body in the wreckage, a massive coincidence that's never really acknowledged. But there's certainly some unique insights into grief and the desire for revenge, and strong performances.

My Eyes Went Dark by Matthew Wilkinson is booking until the 19th of September at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes straight through.

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