Dark Matter is a show about an ageing astrophysicist Alfredo, who lives with dementia in a care home. Using visual art, "micro-cinema", and puppetry, Vertebra Theatre present a tender show about old age and a degenerative disease. They also explore the question of why people never have a death plan, even though we plan so much around birth.
Several aspects of this show are particularly striking. First, the stack of glass shelves on set: miniature objects sit on the shelves, which the cast handle independently, but which also come together to create beautiful visualisations that are filmed and projected on a larger scale. Tiny liquid drops could represent Alfredo’s mind, or his theories of the Universe. The sand trickling down, covering his memories and his home – the apples and the trees – was very poignant.
Second, the beautiful expression of decaying memories. Alfredo’s parents have their faces covered; he cannot remember their features. In a flashback, the actor who plays the care home nurse also becomes Alfredo’s beloved Helen, and as we travel back to the present he mixes them up.
Finally, the trio that control the puppet Alfredo (Aurora Adams, Jennie Rawling, Douglas Rutter) move in perfect synchronisation, bringing out both the slowness of old age and the panicked movements of someone who is struggling to remember basic things. You can sense how upset he is, as simple tasks like following a recipe become insurmountable.
Sadly though, I missed a good part of the movement completely, as the cast were performing either kneeling or bending – and the venue is no good for that if you are not seated right at the front. It was frustrating to be excluded from part of a show I was enjoying so much, and I really hope the cast will correct this issue in the future.
Until then, the trick is to get in early, as a lot of the performances are selling out. Grab a seat at the front, and lose yourself in the magic of the universe – and the mysteries of the human mind. You won't be disappointed.