Dark Sublime is a fictional British sci-fi TV series that ran on from 1979 to ‘81. It parodies Doctor Who and Star Trek by featuring tropes like time travel, cursed gemstones and parallel dimensions. The short-lived show is now obviously kitsch and dated; the set is full of blinking consoles, sliding doors shrouded in dry ice and weird computers made from old junk.
In the present day, however, the show resonates emotionally for a band of superfans. Oli (Kwaku Mills), a young and naïve bookshop worker, loves to escape into the fantasy realm of Dark Sublime. We follow Oli as he attempts to rekindle the cast’s interest in this 35-year-old show, but we see that this is no easy task, since the passage of years has changed them all.
Marianne Hogg (Marina Sirtis) once played Renaga, the sequined despotic witch of the show. In Dark Sublime she uses her magical powers to break through into our world. Now she is far from being an intergalactic Maleficent: middle-aged and jaded, Marianne mooches around her modestly decorated flat eating sweets and quaffing cocktails.
Oli sees Marianne as a fly in amber, a kind of living relic to examine, which goes some way to explain her complacency. Oli lives vicariously through events three decades old, but Marianne is understandably indifferent to things long effaced by the sands of time. Marina and Kwaku play off each other wonderfully in this personality dynamic of excitement versus apathy. They also do well at touching on a spectrum of nuanced emotional themes, such as Marianne’s romantic regrets, her guardianship of Oli, his struggles with sexuality and his fragile self-esteem.
One of the play’s funnier moments highlights an important aspect of their relationship. During a sci-fi convention Oli placates Marianne with an offer of brandy from his own personal stash. He remembers she said that it’s hard to find alcohol in a hotel late at night. “When did I say that?” Marianne asks. “1989” Oli replies. Much like the plot of an actual sci-fi episode, Oli and Marianne are trapped in the different time streams of past and present, meaning that their conversations are doomed to be out of sync.
Given that Studio 2 is so compact, the play features a lot of ingenious use of set. Kate (Jacqueline King) is Marianne’s best friend who has found solace in the affections of the younger Suzanne (Sophie Ward). At the apex of their romance we see them enjoy a dreamlike summer day at Alexandra Palace – Marianne’s green shag rug becomes the verdant turf. The set is both terrestrial and celestial: we are transported suddenly from the suburbs to a darkened space ship. Here we see the intrepid Vykar (Simon Thorp) brandishing a questionable ray gun, accompanied by the hysterical AI Kosley (Mark Gatiss) in his mission to prevent Renaga acquiring the ‘shadow ruby’.
The convoluted plot of Dark Sublime has some currency in the real world. As Renaga desperately seeks the hypnotic ‘shadow ruby’, personified by Jacqueline King, we see Marianne unsuccessfully pursue Kate in the real world. Her romantic obsession threatens the friendship, but she learns to tame it, for the sake of remaining amicable.
Dark Sublime ends with reconciliation. It is a play that features some wildly comical dialogue, but it compresses a lot of complex narratives into this small space, which for me is its main drawback; we end up pinballing through different plots as if whizzing about time and space in our own TARDIS.
- By: Michael Dennis
- Director: Andrew Keates
- Cast includes: Jacqueline King, Marina Sirtis, Kwaku Mills, Simon Thorp, Mark Gatiss & Sophie Ward
- Venue: Trafalgar Studios
- until 3 August 2019
- Dates & times: 3pm & 7.45pm : Running time 2hr 30 mins (including 20 min interval)