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My Eyes Went Dark at Finborough Theatre – Review

Thusitha Jayasundera and Cal MacAninch
Thusitha Jayasundera and Cal MacAninch
My Eyes Went Dark
Photographer: Bronwen Sharp

The audience is already gearing up for a game of visual tennis as we take our seats for My Eyes Went Dark, as one chair is positioned at each extreme end of the performance space. I use the term ‘performance space’ deliberately – it’s hardly a ‘stage’ with a section of seating on either side of the rectangular area, and a designated walkway that half the audience must use when crossing the said space to take their seats. Thankfully, the first thing Marya Koslov (Thusitha Jayasundera) does as soon as she appears is move her chair closer to the centre. As the show progresses, there’s not a chance of neck ache as Marya and husband Nikolai (Cal MacAninch) skilfully move around the space: kudos to writer and director Matthew Wilkinson on this point.

The staging is severely minimal. Aside from the chairs, every other allusion to location, time and space relied on lighting effects, with varying degrees of success. I like the miming used in this production, but I think the use of one or two props, or perhaps projections, would hardly have spoiled things. It’s not good when you’re wondering why on earth Nikolai Koslov is running his fingers over the floor, only to read on the Tube home that the stage direction at this point reads: “Koslov carefully takes out a cloth. He begins to wipe a huge granite memorial.

The scene changes are rapid, and set changes would hamper the progress of the story and the tension created by way of momentum. So, rightly, the set stays largely the same, although sometimes the scene changes are a little too subtle – at one point Nikolai gently places a baby to sleep (again, through mime), and then appears to step on it, thereby trampling it to death. He does not, however; he has simply risen and quickly begun the dialogue for the next scene.

Letting the audience in on one side of a telephone conversation is a useful theatrical tool, particularly in satirical plays or a great British farce. This show, however, is neither, and therefore the telephone as a device is repeatedly used until it overstays its welcome. The audience is required to work harder than necessary to make sense of what is going on.

There are, for me, two main themes explored: corporate manslaughter and restorative justice. Both are considered at considerable depth. With regards to the first issue, the position of the laws of the land (that is, the land of the play) is that an accident is precisely that, an accident. If it is determined in court that an accident is an accident then by definition nobody is no blame, and it logically follows that there are no convictions. (If only the ‘no-win, no-fee’ ambulance chasing compensation lawyers of modern Britain could understand that point!) Secondly, restorative justice only really works with total commitment from both perpetrator and victim. The case presented in My Eyes Went Dark is complicated by the fact that the perpetrator acted in retaliation to the killing of his children, and was actually a victim in the first instance.

Cal MacAninch’s interpretation of Nikolai is believable enough, but the character is portrayed as abstract and aloof, rarely responding in any way at all to the barrage of questions thrown at him – even if it is to tell the questioner to go away. He is stubborn and immovable, and in the final Scenes it becomes clear the ending is simply not going to be redemptive or hopeful. The show suffers because it is very difficult to feel any sympathy for Nikolai, such is his relative coldness and either inability or unwillingness to open up. But then, as Weitner (also Thusitha Jayasundera) almost pithily remarks: “I don’t mean to be insensitive, but what did you expect?”

There’s also a subplot about some construction works that partly works as it allows the victim’s wife a further attempt at restorative justice by gatecrashing a groundbreaking ceremony. But, bizarrely, the subplot continues to the very end of the show, and serves to tie up only one of a number of loose ends still present after the lights rise for the curtain call. The subplot seemed rushed, and I wonder if the show could have benefited by following Nikolai’s story right through to the bitter end instead. Does he go to the grave with a continued bitterness because his children were taken from him? Does his anger mellow in old age? Does he end up an advocate for restorative justice? Don’t know, don’t know, don’t know.

Further, the narrative is not in chronological order, making it difficult to follow quite exactly who is alive and dead at a given point in the evening’s proceedings. However, My Eyes Went Dark asserts that it is probably better to not say sorry at all than to say sorry but not really mean it. And we can never have enough reminders that there are always two sides to each and every story.
3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Nikolai Koslov avenges the death of his family in a plane crash – by killing the air traffic controller he holds responsible. Maintaining he can’t remember his crime, Nikolai serves four years in a Swiss prison before being suddenly released. Back home in Ossetia he’s greeted as a national hero and is even given a ministerial position.

But grief and remorse cannot stay buried forever…

Writer/Director Matthew Wilkinson’s previous plays include Sun Is Shining (King’s Head Theatre, BAC Time Out Critics’ Choice Season and 59E59 Theaters, New York), Red Sea Fish (Brighton Pavilion Theatre and 59E59 Theaters, New York) and co-author of the UK adaptation of Hideki Noda’s Red Demon (Young Vic and Tokyo). His short films have screened internationally, including official festival selections in London, Berlin, Paris, Siena and Nashville. Matthew trained at RADA and has has worked in theatre, film, TV and animation.

Cal MacAninch has played Hamlet at the Glasgow Citizens, performed in Anna Karenina with Shared Experience and most recently appeared on stage as Robbie Ross in The Judas Kiss by David Hare at the Duke of York’s Theatre. His numerous leading roles in television and film include Banished, Mr. Selfridge, Garrow’s Law, Downton Abbey, Rockface and Warrior.

Thusitha Jayasundera most recently appeared in Behind The Beautiful Forevers (National Theatre) as well as filming a regular role in new BBC drama Doctor Foster. Nominated for the Ian Charleson Award and a veteran of the National

Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company, she has starred in four series of Above Suspicion and was a series regular in Holby City and The Bill.

10% of any profits from the production will go to The Forgiveness Project, an organisation committed to
restorative justice.

Finborough Theatre
118 Finborough Road
London, SW10 9ED
Box Office: 0844 847 1652
www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk
Tuesday 25 August – Saturday 19 September 2015
Tuesday to Saturday Evenings at 7.30pm
Sunday matinees at 3.00pm. Saturday matinees at 3.00pm (from 5 September )

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