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Review of Dark Sublime at Trafalgar Studios

Dark Sublime, Trafalgar Studios (credit Scott Rylander) Marina Sirtis and Kwaku Mills.
Dark Sublime, Trafalgar Studios (credit Scott Rylander) Marina Sirtis and Kwaku Mills.

Dark Sublime is a superb 60 to 90-minute play. Unfortunately, it lasts for well over two hours and, while the script is peppered with many fresh and hilarious one-liners, Michael Dennis’s homage to sci-fi tv gives new meaning to the word “padded”.

The play is set in the present day and centres on Marianne, an actress with Emmerdale credentials best known for a 1970s sci-fi series for ITV, the Dark Sublime of the title. Although Marianne is played by Star Trek TNG’s Marina Sirtis, it’s clear that the television series the writer has in mind is Blake’s Seven rather than anything created by Gene Roddenberry and the character played by Marianne, the duplicitous Ragana, owes much to the main villain in Blake’s Seven, Servalan as played by the late Jacqueline Pearce.

It’s also clear that the playwright has a genuine fondness – and why not? – for the genre he is gently poking fun at as well as a real talent in writing comic dialogue. Unfortunately, his play is a bit of a muddle.

There are two main themes: the legacy of fame for an actress who can barely remember the role for which she is famous; and the tragedy of unrequited love, here seen (as it usually is) as enough to drive the would be lover to drink. Carefully blended, these would be more than enough but Dennis incorporates scenes from the tv series which, initially, one assumes must be there to provide a commentary on the substance of the play but quickly prove to be irrelevant and unnecessary.

Dark Sublime, Trafalgar Studios - Simon Thorp: Credit Scott Rylander.
Dark Sublime, Trafalgar Studios – Simon Thorp: Credit Scott Rylander.

The cast rise above the play’s weaknesses. Sirtis, in particular, is superb, nasally droll as Marianne the actress and steely in the cuttable scenes that provide glimpses of the original series, though there are some overlong pauses in her dialogue with others. As Marianne’s adoring fan, Kwaku Mills is impressive but his character is, at least for this reviewer, too much the kind of stereotype that is depressingly familiar from re-runs of ‘70s telly but rarely seen on the London stage in 2019. As Marianne’s best friend, Kate, Jacqueline King is marvellous, as she always is, and she is touching and funny in her scenes with an excellent Sophie Ward (whose presence here is baffling given some of the roles she has played); if Kate’s final scene with Marianne is wholly unconvincing the fault lies in the script. Simon Thorp, a solid Shakespearean actor, is wasted here because the majority of his scenes are simply unnecessary and of the voice cameo, the least said the better.

On the technical side, Studio 2 at the Trafalgar is a small space and the all too clear challenges that it presents to a designer and director are not well met in this production – movements on stage are often too obviously made to compensate for poor sight lines, and too many scene transitions are not well managed, with better thought out exits needed as well as sharper work on the lighting desk.

So, very much a mixed bag. There is an awful lot of humour in this play, with some outstanding moments of verbal and multi-limbed physical comedy, but if the play itself is to have legs it desperately needs pruning.

3 Star Review

Review by Louis Mazzini

Oli arrives at the door of Marianne, a fading jobbing actress. He’s impatient to make an impression, to make a friend. Marianne knows about waiting – for her turn at something more substantial than a half-remembered role on a cult TV show, for her best friend to see her differently. As Oli forces her back into the past, and a strange, outrageous world she hasn’t visited in almost 40 years, Marianne must find her own way into the future. Together they begin to discover what every good relationship needs: time and space.

Director Andrew Keates
Writer Michael Dennis
Designer Tim McQuillen-Wright
Lighting Designer Neil Brinkworth
Composer Matthew Strachan
Casting Director Harry Blumenau
Producer Jamie Chapman Dixon and Piers Cottee-Jones for Rigmarole
Productions in association with Arion Productions, M.Green
Productions and J.W. Carter Productions.

Cast
Marianne – Marina Sirtis
Kosley – Mark Gatiss
Kate – Jacqueline King
Oli – Kwaku Mills
Bob/Vykar – Simon Thorp
Suzanne – Sophie Ward

Dark Sublime
Performance Dates Tuesday 25 June – Saturday 3 August 2019
Running time 2 hours with an interval
Post-Show Q&A Tuesday 2 July and Wednesday 17 July, with more to be announced.

Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY

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