My Eyes Went Dark, written and directed by Matthew Wilkinson at the Finborough Theatre, is one of the finest pieces of theatre produced this season.
Inspired by real events, the play takes place over five years. Nikolai Koslov has lost his family in a plane crash which was ruled as accidental; he revenges their deaths by killing the air traffic controller Thomas Olsen who he deems responsible. Koslov is imprisoned but maintains he can’t remember the murder. We see his life and reasons unveil before our eyes, and we see how grief cannot stay forgotten.
In a dark and small room of the Finborough Theatre, Wilkinson takes you on a spectacularly believable journey. From the interchangeable soundscapes and the high pitched note of Koslov’s headache generated by Max Pappenheim which was unnervingly subtle, this play moves sinuously through the agonising life of a grieving man.
The set, beautifully designed by Bethany Wells, was minimal yet each scene had its own atmosphere and imaginative scenery. At one point the audience literally vibrated in their seats with the deep bass of the sound by Pappenheim swelling at the climax of the play beautifully complimented by Elliot Griggs lighting design.
The actor Cal MacAninch, who played Nikolai Koslov, was spellbinding from the very beginning of the performance until his last sentence, his focus unwavering and precise. MacAninch mimed sheltering his child in his arms and moved faultlessly from time to time. His unrelenting eyes spoke a thousand words and he was in complete control.
The multi-talented Thustha Jayasundera who played every other character in the play (and there were lots) from child to distressed aunt, to wife, to colleague, to therapist, could not be faulted. She had made a complete, seamless choice for each.
With two such magnificent actors, this play truly shines. They listened to each other and knew how exactly to hit each line to deliver the most extraordinary scenes. In this heady production, there was one particularly wonderful, hypnotic scene where Jayasundera – playing MacAninch/Koslov’s therapist- nags away at him for information on the night of the crime. The tension was unbearable and the scenario so true to life due to the aplomb of the actors.
The most remarkable thing about this play was the reality of the events. I could understand every reasoning behind why Koslov killed the air traffic controller Thomas Olsen. I was on his side yet I knew he was wrong, but when it is unravelling before your eyes, things aren’t so black and white. A harrowing moment was when Koslov showed a young boy the pictures of this deceased family; it was so unexpected and cruel it sent shivers down your spine. Directed to perfection the scenes were fluid, with the energy from the last word from one scene picking up and matching perfectly to the next. The actors would pass the energy onto each other in this miraculous exchanging of energy and time shifts.
The theme of remembering pain was prolific in My Eyes Went Dark. With references to Jesus Christ bearing his scars for all to see and MacAninch’s controlled approach to the grief, it was heartbreaking. Wilkinson also touched on the air line paying compensation to Koslov for his family’s deaths. Koslov had to constantly argue that it was his “right to fight for justice” when the company “can’t even say sorry”. My Eyes Went Dark showed the human need to preserve pain. Continuously throughout Koslov would be probed to acknowledge his pain and well… you will have to watch the play to see the outcome.
With Hamlet at the Barbican Centre causing such a sensation this season and people queuing overnight for tickets, I had a thought about this small considered fringe venue; if I had queued overnight for this production.. it would have been worth it. It would be a crime if a single seat for this production goes unsold.
My Eyes Went Dark is playing until 19 September. For more information and tickets, see the Finborough Theatre’s website. Photo by Bronwen Sharp.