Trafalgar Studios, London – until 3 August 2019
Reviewed by Lisa Harlow
The premise of this debut play by Michael Dennis was already a huge attraction given its early eighties Blake’s 7 style fantasy programme focus. Immediately, the set did not disappoint: a door that lights up with the Simon electronic game colours; a space invaders-style tabletop that serves as a spaceship command centre; graphics, blips and bloops straight out of ZX Spectrum game and Mark Gatiss as the computer’s voice, Kosley. Yes, I was happy.
The audience reacted with great delight to the play’s energetic introduction, which held much promise for its later content. There were many a one-liner which continued to keep the crowd happy, though I seemed to be not in on the joke at times. Perhaps being a member of the creative industry is a must?
Marina Sirtis, well known from the Star Trek: Next Generation series and films, does not have to imagine too wildly the life of an actress from this genre in the role of Marianne. Marianne’s early career included a prime role as Regana in Dark Sublime, an other worldly TV series from forty years prior, which has attracted cultish status amongst a young generation of fans. We find her struggling with the challenge of finding work of any value as an older actress, being drawn into the world of sci-fi conventions and coming to terms with a secret of her heart. The wine guzzling, wise cracking mask that she usually presents to the world, gradually dissolves as her heart’s secrets become apparent. Marina’s performance throughout is superb.
Kate (Jacqueline King) is Marina’s (long-suffering) friend of old, and the push and pull between these two characters provides a central thread to the storyline. Their interplay is gorgeous, though I can’t shake the almost Victoria Wood-like essence with which Jacqueline plays this part. Kate’s new partner (Sophie Ward) triggers Marianne’s inner turmoil, of which it is unclear whether Marianne herself was aware.
Another core theme is the consideration of fans meeting their heroes. Oli (Kwaku Mills) is a gay teenager whose nervous, over enthusiastic bundle of energy completely conquers the stage. His sharing of how Dark Sublime rescued him from his battle with loneliness and being gay in the suburbs is touching. But it is how his self esteem, in spite of his age, allows him to cut free from situations which do not serve him and this attitude inspires Marianne to review her own life path on a far deeper level.
I eagerly anticipated to Vykar’s (Simon Thorp) regular interruptions as a ‘political dissident on the run from a penal planet in the fourth quadrant’ in his silvery, low cost space outfit, with kitchen utensil-like weaponry. Sections of the missing episode of Dark Sublime is interspersed through the performance. Given Dark Sublime took place in parallel dimensions, I particularly enjoyed the revelation that the missing episode mirrors the dynamics between the key characters in the modern day narrative. Regana revealing that she was never in fact trying to possess the Shadow Ruby but be free from it, holds the key to what happens next for all the characters.
This is a very long performance, and there is definitely room for periods of relatively unnecessary action to be trimmed from earlier dialogue: the laughs have died down and the conversational content can drift and contain too many pauses. The size of the performance space evidently presents a number of challenges and limits the look of the locations of later scenes.
The play’s early eighties references will bring plenty of glee to those old enough to remember.
Overall, this is a very enjoyable and polished performance from all involved, and the exaggerated and cliché acting and costumes in the final Dark Sublime interlude is an absolute delight.