Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Jack Brownridge Kelly: Cold, Dark Matters

By | Published on Friday 8 March 2024

I was really intrigued when I heard about ‘Cold, Dark Matters’, which, you may recall, we tipped a couple of weeks ago when it did a short run at Theatre503 in February. Now, it’s back for a longer run at The Hope Theatre, so it felt like a good moment to find out more about the show and its creator. 

The play, which is set in Cornwall, is written and performed by Jack Brownridge-Kelly and directed by Roisin Mccay-Hines, both of whom are Cornwall natives. It is a dark satirical comedy about a writer who moves into the county and finds himself uncovering some murky secrets. 

I spoke to Jack ahead of the upcoming run. 

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the narrative of ‘Cold, Dark Matters’? Who is it about and what story does it tell?
JB-K: ‘Cold, Dark Matters’ is a modern-gothic satire all about a writer named Colin who moves down to Cornwall and comes into contact with a mysterious stranger called Jago.

Colin wants to turn an abandoned shed into a community growing project but, according to Jago, the shed is about to be blown up. From there, the story spirals into the murky underwaters of a supposedly picturesque community where everything is not what it seems…

CM: What themes are explored through the play?
JB-K: Being from Cornwall, I wanted to explore what this place means to me and others who I’ve grown up with. Cornwall has a rich cultural identity that – like in many other places around the world – is being eroded due to the unholy trifecta of gentrification, mass-tourism and the cost-of-living crisis.

At the same time, Cornwall has never been more romanticised in books, TV and film, and this creates an uneasy feeling for me when people view Cornwall as idyllic. I think this talk has real world effects.

Take my home of Penzance for example – well, I’m actually from Newlyn, but there’s no way I could afford to live there now.

In Penzance, homelessness and housing costs are at an all-time high, yet all the development that’s going on seems to cater towards tourism and a certain style of living that would attract people from a more affluent background.

This is inevitably going to create division and distrust between incomers and locals, which I think the play effectively portrays.

Seamus Carey explores these issues brilliantly in his podcast ‘The Reason Why’ – shout out to Seamus!

CM: What was the inspiration? Where did the idea for this narrative come from and what made you want to explore these themes?
JB-K: There are so many inspirations for this piece I don’t know where to begin!

The main one, of course, is from my favourite visual artist Cornelia Parker’s excellent piece ‘Cold, Dark Matter’. I saw her piece and the first scene springboarded from there.

You could say it’s a loose adaptation of her work. I could list many others, but I think tonally I’m really inspired by the uncanny atmosphere that writers like Yōko Ogawa and Hiroko Oyamada create in their short stories.

CM: Did you always plan to perform it yourself?
JB-K: When the show started in January 2023, there was never any consideration to hire someone else because I didn’t have the money.

Performing in a one-man show is always scary as you have nowhere to hide, but I’m so glad I did because I’ve learnt so much and I’m so proud of the wonderful feedback the show has received.

The laughs and gasps that it generates are pretty addictive.

CM: How did you go about creating the script? Did you just sit down and write it, or was the creative process more complex?
JB-K: The first scene was written way before anything else. From there I booked a show where I would give people pasties and pints as part of their admission, hoping this would appease them should the play be rubbish. Luckily, it wasn’t.

I’m really happy with it, especially the structure, which has gone on such a journey. I remember a certain twist in the play being a big eureka moment that came to me when I was walking with a notepad and pen one windy day in West Penwith.

CM: Can you tell us about your director?
JB-K: Roisin is an absolutely fantastic director. We’ve worked together before on The Minack’s production of ‘Further Than The Furthest Thing’.

She’s also Cornish, so really gets what the play is and isn’t, sometimes more than me, so I trust her completely when she has a suggestion about the writing.

She’s also just received an MGC Bursary to write an amazing sounding project inspired by the 1997 cargo ship that spilled five million pieces of sea-themed Lego into the ocean.

CM: Will you tell us a bit about yourself now? How did you come to be working in the arts?
JB-K: I started when I was young in a pretty wild kids’ theatre in St Ives. It was sort of a youth club and put on these really great productions which had a loyal and local following.

I always wrote a bit and got into the Royal Conservatoire Of Scotland and Royal Court’s Introduction To Playwriting Programme, both of which were huge steps in my growth as an actor/writer.

CM: What would you say have been the highlights of your working life thus far?
JB-K: Touring ‘Cold, Dark Matters’ to sold out audiences in Cornwall was pretty special. It was lovely to hear so many of my peers in the Cornish creative scene give such positive feedback. Especially Mark Jenkin, whose work I love, and who has done so much for Cornwall.

‘Superstition Mountain’ by Carl Grose was a bit of a dream come true because I had seen the original production back when I was fourteen and I think it very much made me want to create and be in that style of work. It’s an hilarious and beautiful play that everyone should read.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
JB-K: Keep writing and acting and making work that speaks to and is affordable for Cornish audiences.

I was also in a brilliant short film called ‘Kordh’ which comes out very soon that’s all performed in Cornish – Kernowek – and I’d love to speak more of that in whatever roles come my way.

I find it such a beautiful and expressive language to act in.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this? Do you have any other projects in development?
JB-K: The aforementioned ‘Kordh’ is definitely one to look out for. It’s all about a young trans boy on The Isles Of Scilly and has so much heart in it you wouldn’t believe.

I’ve got another play called ‘Kevrin Out Of Season’, which I really want to get up on its feet. It’s basically a pressure-cooker piece all about two women faced with a life-changing dilemma and is ideal for rural touring.

It’s been in development for about three years now, so I’m very ready for people to see it, but – as with everything – it’s funding dependent.

‘Cold, Dark Matters’ is on at The Hope Theatre from 12-23 Mar, see the venue website here for more information and to book your tickets.