The Exact Dimensions of Hell


Fortyfivedownstairs Theatre
18 Apr – 28 Apr
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On the dark web, thousands of people connect. One such encounter involves a deeply troubled 14-year-old girl, played by Matilda Gibbs. She reaches out to see whether anyone can teach her about witchcraft, so she can cast a spell over those that choose to ignore her. She loves dancing, is depressed, invisible, friendless and keen to lose weight.
Photos by Darren Gill
The girl is taken under the wing of a much older, separated man who has cancer, a role filled by Daniel Schlusser. He agrees to school her in the dark arts. He is bombastic, ties her up in ritualistic mumbo jumbo and pushes her. She keeps coming back for more. But it becomes clear he is manipulating her … grooming her. This is destined to end badly, until she strikes back. The Exact Dimensions of Hell is a new work from playwright Bridget Mackey, who is interested in telling morally complex stories experimentally. It starts with several minutes of text exchanges, which we – the audience – read on the large video screen at the back of the stage. Those texts represent the girl’s entrance to the dark web and some of the sickos that inhabit it. Thereafter, the rest of the drama involves one-on-one contact between the girl and the man, who claims he is a witch. The play is about exploitation and empowerment. As I have already suggested, power and control shifts as the narrative unfolds. The performances are strong and potent. Matilda Gibbs is enthusiastic and eloquent as the girl. Daniel Schlusser is intense and relentless as the witch. Swathes of silken material hanging from butchers’ hooks, which come into play later in the piece, sit on either side of the stage. Evocative horns are among other props. The striking visual imagery, lighting and sound design add depth and gravitas. Bridget Mackey has achieved what she set out to do, namely to relentlessly interrogate the girl’s perspective. The coming-of-age tale she has crafted is wild and dangerous. It prosecutes society’s very real perils of entrapment and more with gusto. So, The Exact Dimensions of Hell is creative and impactful, if a tad stretched at 90 minutes without interval. Directed by Alice Darling, it is on at fortyfivedownstairs until 28th April, 2024.
Alex First

Alex First

Alex First believes all people have a story to tell, if only a good playwright can prize it out of them. Alex has a natural curiosity about the world and believes a strong narrative, or narrative with music, can open the door to subjects about which he knows little. Like his parents before him, theatre is his passion – a passion with emotional resonance, one that moves and excites him. He brings decades’ experience as an arts’ connoisseur to his role as a critic.
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