Review – Dark Matter

Aug 21 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩  Beauty lacks substance

Summerhall (meet at the Victoria Bar, 265 Leith Walk) Thurs 15 – Sat 24 August 2013
Review by Mark Bolsover

Vision Mechanics present an exquisitely executed piece, which makes fantastic use of the beautiful and intimate surroundings of its suburban garden setting, but which disappoints in a lack of substance and emotional stakes from Chris Lee’s overwrought script.

In the surroundings of a garden which seems to vacillate between a literal garden and a metaphor for mental illness and/or sexual intercourse, a young woman narrates a confused and disturbed story apparently  concerned with love, loss, grief and memory.

Dark Matter. Photo © Symon Macintyre

Dark Matter. Photo © Symon Macintyre

The audience gathers in Victoria Bar on Leith Walk, a five minute walk from the garden where the performance takes place. Clad in black ponchos to help them disappear into the dark, the audience have individual headphones, playing an eerie and atmospheric soundtrack, into which Emma Anderson’s performance is directly transmitted. The performance space itself is the centre of a broad lawn.

The atmospheric and effective sound design by Tam Treanor (mixed live) and the absolutely beautiful and brilliantly executed lighting design by Charles Macintyre set the scene and tone of Dark Matter and are really the stars of the production. The garden is beautiful and the clever direction by Symon Macintyre and a good physical performance from Emma Anderson make great use of the space.

However, Chris Lee’s script lets the fantastic design down. The story of the young woman waiting for and addressing an absent lover unfolds clearly enough, but it is the character herself and the register in which she speaks which are the problem. The overarching image of the young woman as a ‘little wren’ or ‘little bird’, over-emphasised throughout the piece, manages to drift clumsily between metaphor and simile (often one to the other in a single utterance) and is, frankly, quite problematic.

Despite the suggestion of a somehow advanced stage of mental illness, the young woman is consistently portrayed as an hysterical, irrational figure, entirely dependent, first on her parents and then on her strong, masculine lover. She seems to have absolutely no will or agency and to obliviously enjoy, in some way, her fate at the latter’s hands.

Lee’s dialogue is of no help. It is burdened with overwrought, pseudo-poetic language and those mixed metaphors and similes pile up. She is never strong or sympathetic enough a character to engage with and the pace is too slow and the emotional stakes too low and forced.

Dark Matter is an exquisitely designed and executed show and, with serious work dramaturging the script and cleaning up and refining the dialogue, could be an incredible show. As it stands, one is obliged to overlook the dialogue to enjoy the beauty of the lighting and sound design which surround it.

Running time 40 mins.
Run ends Saturday 24th August 2013
Daily, 10pm
Summerhall (meeting at the Victoria Bar, 265 Leith Walk)
Tickets from:
Vision Mechanics website:


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