Director Oliver Jones tells an engrossing tale in My Eyes Went DarkAmaya Holman

A tale of justice, revenge and, quite expectedly, darkness, is laid out in Matthew Wilkinson’s My Eyes Went Dark this week at the Corpus Playroom. Nikolai Koslov is a man haunted by the death of his wife and children in a disastrous plane crash. Desperate to uncover the truth, we witness Nikolai, consumed by bitter rage and rebuffed by companies, courts and those around him, become twisted by his loss.

Director Oliver Jones’ production is certainly an engrossing one and Nikolai’s tragic story doesn’t fail to leave you a little bit shaken. We are initially led to contemplate the purpose of a justice system as Nikolai fights for that to which he feels entitled. Through a series of spliced-together snapshots of his life, we see Nikolai move from victim to scorned and self-absorbed aggressor, exploring grief and the pointlessly cyclical nature of revenge.

“Jerome Burelbach gives a captivating portrayal of a tormented man – one of the most genuine and engaging performances I have seen in Cambridge”

Jones has worked well with a small cast to build momentum and mounting tension as the play progresses. In the case of some earlier scenes where a laying down of concepts predominates, more could be achieved had they not, at points, felt a little heavy-handed, perhaps overburdened with exposition.

Jerome Burelbach gives a captivating portrayal of a tormented man – one of the most genuine and engaging performances I have seen in Cambridge. Burelbach draws us deeper and deeper into Nikolai’s unending nightmare and the events of the play seem to unfold in a blur around him – a man trapped in despair, reluctant to escape from personal tragedy. Each line and action is delivered with a contrasting realism that ensures they land perfectly.

Mollie Semple does well in playing all of the show’s remaining characters. Though occasionally we are hard-pressed to differentiate between them, in the case of each character, whether a curious child or an exhausted doctor, the strength of Semple’s performance lies in her physicality. The faceless bureaucracy she so frequently represents sharply counters Nikolai’s rawness.

While the delivery of certain roles and lines could, at times, have benefited from greater emotional colouration and more strongly directed timing, there is no doubt that Semple provides moments of brilliance. Indeed, her scene as the (initially) comically domestic wife of disgraced airline employee, Thomas Ollsen, is easily the play’s most gripping.

“A compelling production”

Jones and assistant director Becca Bradburn have clearly paid close attention to the use of the space. The actors’ movements are such that we feel encased in Nikolai’s disturbed world. As he tours the house that was once home to his family we are at no point excluded from his suffering or Semple’s horror. A simplistic set makes greater room for Burelbach and Semple’s well-directed emotional deliveries, that alone are enough to fill the Playroom.

Daphne Chia and Chris Lazenbatt’s skilful lighting and sound were undoubtedly highlights of the show – operating in perfect tandem to create an atmosphere that reflected Nikolai’s torment and the sometimes calm, often cruel, nature of the external world. Particularly impressive was the execution of a scene in which Nikolai finds himself the subject of a media frenzy, with no camera-flash or shutter-click misplaced. The artful technical work meant that following the course of the play was, at least on a tonal level, made possible.

All in all, this is a compelling production made only more impressive by the fact that such a small cast has achieved such a great impact – a feat of acting, direction and technical management that deserves recognition

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