Pros: Bravura performances and powerful storytelling to shake you to your core.
Cons: Pared down staging and heavy subject matter means this is a show for thinking, not laughing.
Calling the Finborough a pub theatre feels like a disservice. The elegant, welcoming building is itself a lovely sight after a soggy walk, but it is upstairs that holds the real treasures.
This no sweatbox at the back of a pub: the Finborough is a real theatre. Inside its black box performance space, you could be in the studio of any major, subsided theatre. The place oozes quality; heck, it even has air conditioning. The space is perfect for My Eyes Went Dark. A two-hander loosely based on real events, it is the story of a grief-stricken father whose wife and two children are killed in a place crash. In his grief, he avenges his family by killing the air traffic controller he believes to be responsible.
The tale Matthew Wilkinson weaves is no simple revenge drama or study in grief. From the heart-wrenching opening, it is clear Nikolai Koslov, played by Cal MacAninch, is a complex man in extraordinary circumstances. Each scene peels away a new layer of character, events and meaning, which sets the previous in a new light. This device is particularly powerfully deployed at the end of the play when we eventually meet Nikolai’s wife, Marya, in a flashback. It is a testament to the playwright’s skill that this moment never feels tricksy.
As we see Nickolai interact with people over the years, the man and his motivation descends into a spiral of questions taking in nature versus nurture, culture, nationalism, ambition, personal responsibility and, yes, vengeance. Cal MacAninch gives a first-rate, multi-layered performance as the grief-stricken father who is also an ambition architect, proud countryman and driven politician. But it is Thusitha Jayasundera’s work that staggers. She plays every other character including wife Marya. Superb technical accomplishment sees her snap between roles as varied as a young boy, elderly aunt, corporate PR and subservient assistant in a heartbeat but talent demands that she embodies them so completely and convincingly – all without costume changes or props.
This pared down staging, consisting of just two plastic chairs, asks much of the actors and you sense it’s a challenge they delight in tackling. It’s a creative choice that also challenges the audience but it’s a pleasure to be asked to engage on such an intimate level. Lighting and sound design play a powerful role in the dark, stark setting. Max Pappenheim conjures background airspace noise, which melds with the character’s mental state perfectly, while Elliot Griggs’ lighting takes us to graves, airports and lavish parties, creating mood and space within the play’s world.
That the Finborough is able to put on drama of this quality without any subsidy is a minor miracle; the fact that it may once again be under threat from property development is sadly no surprise and we hope it can continue to produce quality theatre for a long time to come.
Author: Matthew Wilkinson
Director: Matthew Wilkinson
Booking Until: 19 September 2015
Box Office: 0844 847 1652
Booking Link: http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/venue/finborough-theatre-tickets/FINBOROERD/905