Dark Matter is a piece of theatre that breaks many of its rules and moulds new ones. It does not take place in a theatre for starters. Audience members are asked to don black ponchos and are seated at either end of a garden decked up for the occasion with lights and one or two eerily planted props. You are welcomed by smoke and incense and soon, a woman emerges. You can’t see much of her face due to her changing directions, the distance between you, the hair in her face and the encompassing darkness. However, the intimacy is maintained via headphones, which translate Emma’s every word, breath, shriek and stutter into your ears. Some of these are repeated by ghoulish voices, laughed at by strange listeners in, or followed up by other frightening sound effects. The lights changed colour at steady intervals to complement the grief, lust, fear or ecstasy of each monologue, and the music ranged from light and mystical to dark and creepy.
Dark Matter is an atmospheric exploration of unrequited and forbidden love. ‘Emma Anderson’ is neither person nor character, but love personified. She may look like a normal woman waiting for a perhaps dubious lover, clad in white worn trainers and an oversized man’s coat, but what we see of Emma is nothing of the ordinary. This production allows you to take a peek at the emotional turmoil beneath. Anderson is naked underneath her coat - in more ways than one - and this is not a journey from her conscious to her subconscious. You are plunged into this woman’s psyche from the beginning, with no introduction, and are forced to swim through it until the end.
There is not much in the way of storyline. It is more of a snapshot from a modern day fairytale. Emma, as a deluded young girl, was told by her parents that love is a singing, flying, beautiful, harmless bird - a fact which she readily believes even as a grown woman. She falls in love with a mysterious figure who she is now waiting for in the darkness of someone else’s garden. This love is, inevitably, nothing like a bird. The man Emma longs for is married and never emerges from the shadows despite her incessant calling for him. Beyond this, the theatrical experience is about empathy rather than narrative. The focus was on the obliteration of love, which Emma craves, enjoys, fears and hates, but never seems to regret.
The script is more of a poem than a truly dramatic piece. It is consistently intense, Emma always sounds strange and deluded, and there are no real moments of conflict. Emma gives in almost immediately to whichever emotion overtakes her. The piece’s last line is simply a repetition of her plea: ‘Why won’t you come?’ Some people will enjoy that this reflects the repetitive cycles of obsession, while others may find that the piece as a whole will lack progression. Language has been used richly and with symbols and imagery galore, which some people will appreciate and some may find indulgent. This is not a show which will agree with all tastes. However, it is offsite theatre at its most magical and while it may not have much of a narrative, it certainly sheds light on what is otherwise kept in darkness.