Edinburgh Fringe 2017
Dark Matter is a devised and puppetry performance that asks ‘where does the brain with dementia go before we die?’. Vertebra Theatre use visual and physical storytelling to dive into the universe of Alfie, a retired astrophysicist who lives with dementia. Star constellations and black holes merge in a race against the clock to discover meaning.
Dark Matter uses puppetry, physical theatre and visual imagery to explore the experience of dementia. Alfredo is a retired astrophysicist who studied dark matter in relation to the structure of the brain. Now he is widowed and living in a care home with dementia. The play plays with these themes weaving Alfredo’s own story through them.
The play opens with a projected visual of a small wooden figure floating suggestive of the womb and panoply of moving lights while a voiceover asks ‘If people have a birth plan why not a death plan?’ and ‘Where do stars go when they die?’
Vertebra Theatre Company have created an exquisite puppet Alfredo that oozes character and puzzlement at the world he finds himself in. His journey from childhood to the present via work, love and research is framed by his confused and confusing encounters with his busy and slightly exasperated care giver in the home.
Aurora Adams and Jennie Rawling bring Alfredo to life, with Douglas Rutter providing his voice. All three contribute to creating a thoroughly believable character. Sofia Calmicova as his care giver, wife, props for a train journey and an apple tree that he climbs completes the tight sense of story. That she plays both care giver and his beloved Helen highlights how often someone with dementia will confuse a carer with a former loved one.
Woven through the story are visual moments with coloured lights suggesting constellations. Unfortunately the space isn’t sufficiently dark for these to really create the image that I imagine the company want.
This is a beautiful production and well presented. The principle issue is that of sight lines – the seating is flat and much of the puppet work as well as some of the visual imagery was invisible beyond the front row. However, this could be addressed by simply adding a table to the set on which the puppet would work which would also have the advantage or bringing him to the same height as the humans he interacts with.
Despite the technical difficulties this is a show well worth seeing for the clear and deft storytelling, the touching characterisation and the superb puppet work. Just get there early to be sure of a seat at the front.