Trafalgar Studios, London – until 3 August 2019
There are two actors playing actors on stage in London at the moment and both characters present as needy and vain. Andrew Scott’s Garry in Present Laughter (Old Vic) is at the extreme end of the spectrum but there are elements too in Marina Sirtis’ Marianne in Dark Sublime.
She’s an actress whose star has long been in the descendent having reached the heady heights of a 1980s sci-fi series called Dark Sublime and some episodes in a soap. Now she gets by on the odd bit of radio work and corporate training gigs and spends her evenings drinking and grumbling with old friend Kate (Jacqueline King) when she isn’t seeing her new, young girlfriend Suzanne (Sophie Ward).
Into Marianne‘s world steps Oli (Kwaku Mills) a geeky fan of Dark Sublime who wants to interview her for a forum – another parallel with Present Laughter as Garry also has an obsessive fan.
Marianne and Oli strike up an unlikely friendship and while she might be dismissive of the dodgy sci-fi series in which she starred, you can tell she likes the attention, particularly with Kate spending more and more time with Suzanne. The narrative is injected with scenes from a lost episode of Dark Sublime with Simon Thorp playing ‘Vykar’, dressed Flash Gordon-style and talking dramatically into his wrist with Mark Gatiss providing the voice for his computer. It’s an opportunity to deliver some suitably hammy and amusing 80s special effects.
While the play gets off to a punchy start with plenty of laughs – often at the expense of the entertainment industry – it doesn’t feel like the focus on relationships, loneliness and the nature of friendship gets sufficient purchase. And it is actually the world of superfans which feels like a more interesting avenue – and something I’d have like to have seen further explored.
Dark Sublime is a long play – two hours and 40 minutes including an interval – and while it contains some really good material it would benefit from being trimmed back to make it slicker and more focused.
Dark Sublime is at Trafalgar Studios 2 until August 3 and I’m giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️.
You might also like to read:
West End review: What I liked and what I didn’t about Rosmersholm, Duke of York’s Theatre.
Fringe review: Summer Rolls, Park Theatre – the first British Vietnamese play to be staged in the UK.
From the archive: My frustrating experience with Punchdrunk’s A Drowned Man.
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