Trafalgar Studios, London – until 3 August 2019
On the surface there is a lot going on in Michael Dennis’ debut play. On one hand it is about fandom and the relationships fans have with celebrities but it is also about the relationships celebrities have with their work. Add in a story of unrequited love, then there is a lot to take in over these 160 minutes. Thankfully this manages to interweave the themes so well and becomes a complex and heartfelt look at the impact something can have on someone when they feel they have nothing else.
Marina Sirtis stars as Marianne Hogg, a struggling actress in her early sixties living on her starring roles in Emmerdale and as Ragana in ITV sci-fi drama Dark Sublime. Dennis’ incredibly detailed BFI programme notes in the production’s programme describe it as a Blake’s Seven/UFO type show and are worth the price of the programme alone. When she is approached Oli (Kwaku Mills, who was fabulous in The End of Eddy), who wasn’t even born when the show was on, she is flattered and also confused about her impact on this man and other fans, as they swap illicit copies of DVDs and he creates a website dedicated to the show.
Marianne also has to contend with her best friend Kate’s (Jacqueline King) new relationship with Suzanne (Sophie Ward) as well as her friend’s, who is not an actor, scepticism about Oli and her whole career. Whilst Suzanne finds it all quite glamorous Kate is more cynical; her relationship is with Marianne the activist, not Marianne the actress.
Dennis’ script manages to intervene the issues of fandom, which I related to probably more than others, I was on forums, I enjoy archive TV though not necessarily sci-fi or conventions and barked at a line about how their BFI acquired was not the version shown on UK Gold. It also intervenes LGBT issues; such as the attraction gay people have to these sorts of shows and the general escapism into the past and quite campy Sci-fi shows as well the storyline between Marianne and Kate. Kate is more open about her lesbianism after a failed marriage to a man. Marianne is more closed off about her sexuality and is the source of tension between them.
Simon Thorp (Vykar) and Kwaku Mills (Oli)
Sirtis is incredible as Marianne, with her own Sci-Fi fandom from her time on Star Trek: The Next Generation there is something poignant when she states you can never be friends with a fan. Her performance is also full of humour, her smug smile when she finds out a Dark Sublime co-star was at the Shakespeare’s Globe playing a servant to Cleopatra will remain one of my favourite moments in theatre. Kwaku Mills is one to watch, giving great performances in major productions over the last year he gives a moving performance as Oli, who leaves the audience unsure whether he wants to be friends with Marianne or Ragana.
The attention to detail in this production, directed by Andrew Keats, including Tim McQuillen-Wright’s (who also designed the Jeff Wayne’s Immersive War of the World‘s) excellent set that can take you from a living room, to a hotel, a park and even Dark Sublime’s set with support from Neil Brinkworth’s Lighting and Sarah Weltman’s sound designs. The scenes from Dark Sublime are a nice touch with Simon Thorp and the voice of Mark Gatiss appearing to show the audience what the show was like. My only criticism of this would be that it would have been so much better to pre-record these scenes and show them on television in the theatre as I think seeing them live (with no context that this was a recording for example) took away from the television based fantasy but this is fun and interesting night out that will attract a new audience with an interest in television to the theatre.
Dark Sublime is on until 3 August, with a relaxed performance on 2 July 2019