Review: Dark Sublime
Image: Trafalgar Studios
Marianne - Marina Sirtis
Kosley - Mark Gatiss
Kate - Jacqueline King
Oli - Kwaku Mills
Bob/Vykar - Simon Thorp
Suzanne - Sophie Ward
Oli arrives at the door of Marianne, a now-forgotten sci-fi TV icon, impatient to make an impression, to make a friend.
Marianne, a jobbing actress, knows about waiting - for the phone to ring, for her best friend to see her differently, for her turn at something more substantial than a half-remembered role on a cult TV show.
He wants an autograph; she doesn't want anything from him - or so she thinks.
Yet as they start to explore each other's worlds, they begin to discover what every good relationship needs: time and space.
Exploring the complexities of relationships, especially in the LGBTQ community, and the contrast in lived experiences across generations, Michael Dennis has crafted a story that is as much about joy and heartbreak as it is about quarries and transmat beams.
Making her West End debut, Star Trek: The Next Generation star Marina Sirtis will take the lead as Marianne in the world premiere of Dark Sublime, directed by Andrew Keates (As Is and Dessa Rose - Trafalgar Studios).
Further casting, including an iconic voice of Science Fiction will be announced in 2019.
Set against the backdrop of an old sci-fi TV series, Dark Sublime ranges over a number of issues - some of which might initially seem specifically linked with the LGBTQ community given the characters we meet.
But this debut play by Michael Dennis actually offers a much wider field of view, making the underlying subject matter relevant to almost everyone.
The central theme explores friendship - specifically asking whether we can be friends with, for example, those who've rejected us as lovers.
But as the story unfolds, we also find issues such as age and age difference emerging too.
The play focuses on Marina Sirtis's Marianne who has been in the acting business for more years than she probably cares to remember.
Though she's presumably met zillions of people during the passage of her lengthy career, she seems to have acquired few close and dependable friends.
Ms Sirtis presents us with an independent, outwardly confident but somewhat lonely woman who sometimes appears a little caustic and harsh (though not completely devoid of compassion and understanding).
Semi-dependent on good wine, Marianne does have one close friend called Kate, and it seems that the former had (particularly in the past) hoped for more than just friendship from her relationship with the latter.
Still, when we first meet them, these two characters seem comfortable in each other's company as befits an enduring friendship.
Marina Sirtis and Kwaku Mills - photo by Scott Rylander
But then Marianne is contacted by a young man Oli, a 21 year-old fan of a TV sci-fi series she acted in 30 years ago.
The ebullient Oli (well-played here by Kwaku Mills) wants Marianne to do an interview for the website he manages about the TV series, and invites her to attend a convention to meet other adoring fans and reunite with other members of the original TV cast.
And that subsequently sparks a row between Marianne and Kate.
Simon Thorp as Vykar - photo by Scott Rylander
Inserted within the time-frame of the present-day story, we see fragments from the sci-fi series, with Simon Thorp in suitably exaggerated acting mode as an intrepid space explorer as portrayed in low-budget TV productions.
Designer Tim McQuillen-Wright makes effective use of the compact stage area in Trafalgar Studio 2 with detailed economic efficiency and impressive creative inventiveness.
The set is basically the interior of Marianne's home and looks like it has been frozen in time around the tail end of the 1970s or the beginning of the 1980s, suggesting that its owner is similarly anchored (and still living) in the past.
But Mr McQuillen-Wright deftly embodies hidden elements in his design that surprisingly spring to life come the sci-fi scenes.
Though Michael Dennis's writing sports well-crafted humour and sometimes clever lines - the final scene invokes a touch of schmaltz which could easily have been avoided, especially given that the play feels rather long anyway.
However, Andrew Keates' production is nevertheless skilfully accomplished and enjoyably entertaining, bolstered by a well-cast ensemble who ably shift gear between the reality of the basic plot and the more comedic sci-fi scenes.
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