[THEATRE REVIEW] THE EXACT DIMENSIONS OF HELL @ fortyfivedownstairs Review (2024)

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.

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.

Review by Alex First. Photography by Darren Gill