The latest play to hit Trafalgar Studios 2 is the debut piece from Michael Dennis. Starring Marina Sirtis (of Star Trek: The Next Generation) and featuring the voice of Mark Gatiss, Dark Sublime is described as “a love-letter to British sci-fi television”, exploring the people that make it and the fandoms that spring from them.
Kate and Marianne have been friends for many years, throughout Marianne’s acting career – though of late it has been rather quiet and taken up with a variety of workshops, she is often remembered from her stint in Emmerdale, and very occasionally for a starring role in cult sci-fi show Dark Sublime. Against Kate’s advice, Marianne answers a letter from one such fan and ends up inviting him to her house when he requests from her an interview for his podcast. Slightly reluctant at first, she starts to enjoy the trip down memory lane and the adoration that Oli provides by the bucketload; soon the main Dark Sublime team have been assembled to participate in a dedicated convention, Marianne constantly dangling the prospect of a secret episode script to maintain Oli’s attention. But as Kate finds happiness with Suzanne, long-hidden feelings start to bubble over in Marianne, threatening to destroy everything she holds dear…
The play promises much, but unfortunately it doesn’t wholly deliver. It could definitely benefit from some cutting down, as a few scenes go round in circles and the whole thing lacks focus. Whilst it’s good to see both sides of the coin explored, it could do with coming down on one side or another by the end of it – as it is, both fans and actors of so-called “cult” shows don’t come out of it particularly well. The scenes from Dark Sublime (presumably from the ‘lost’ episode) are cheesy & fun; the final one of these is overlong, though I actually would have liked a few more short interjections to break things up a bit.
Competing against the fandom strand is a somewhat hurried plot line about Marianne’s feelings for Kate. Because Marianne spends most of her time name-dropping theatres & classic plays (as if she feels it will lend her credibility), bitching about old friends & colleagues, or cracking open bottles of champagne, the question of her love life feels like an afterthought – and thus Kate & Suzanne’s relationship also feels a bit forced. Events get a bit hysterical out of nowhere, making for melodrama rather than anything truly dramatic.
Having old TV adverts playing before the show and during the interval is a nice touch (and a good drop of nostalgia for some audience members), echoing back to Dark Sublime’s 1979-81 programming. Tim McQuillen-Wright’s set design is rather clever – it’s mostly Marianne’s front room (and latterly the green room at the convention) but is easily transformed into a sci-fi set, with the windows on the door lighting up as Kosley speaks (an entertaining Mark Gatiss voiceover) and the coffee table becoming some sort of control panel.
For some the big draw will be Marina Sirtis, however her performance is a bit of a disappointment; flat & monotonous delivery doesn’t exactly make her actions believable, and a constant stumbling over lines makes a long evening even longer – I can’t quite fathom how she doesn’t know her lines inside out by now. The real star of this show is Kwaku Mills as Oli (recently seen in good dog), a whirlwind of nerves & verbal diarrhoea when he first meets his idol, though this covers an deepset insecurity and a need to work out where he belongs. The stage lights up with his presence, Mills bringing much-needed verve & dynamism.
My verdict? A play that tries to balance plots about fandom & unrequited love, ending up a little unfocused – the spoof sci-fi scenes are the highlights of the show.
Dark Sublime runs at Trafalgar Studios 2 until 3 August 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.