Theatre Review: Dark Sublime (Trafalgar Studios, London) ★★★★

What do you do when the object of your affection doesn’t return the kind of love you want? That’s what writer Michael Dennis and director Andrew Keates explore in Dark Sublime, a play that mixes unrequited love with sci-fi fandom.

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

Marianne (Marina Sirtis) is an ageing actress who was the star of a sci-fi show ‘Dark Sublime’, forty years ago. When her best friend Kate (Jaqueline King) starts dating a younger girlfriend (Sophie Ward), Marianne has to deal with feelings she’s been avoiding. Things start to escalate when Oli (Kwaku Mills) writes her a fan letter and she starts to think her old history might hold some clues about her future.

Dark Sublime is dripping in its love of British sci-fi shows of the 70s/80s like Blake’s 7, Space 1999, The Tomorrow People and Doctor Who. But ultimately this is just set-dressing for Marianne’s shifting personal life. Can the love of a fan replace that of a lover? Does settling for friendship outway the risk of telling someone how you really feel?

This story of love and friendship is wrapped in a comedy about science-fiction fandom that manages to poke loving fun without being condescending. It’s refreshing to have a very queer play (four of the five characters are LGBTQ) where sexuality is ultimately irrelevant, it’s all about

Dark Sublime, Trafalgar Studios (credit Scott Rylander) Simon Thorp.

Dark Sublime is on firm ground with its appreciation of fandom; the jokes are subtle, the observations are sharp. The more you know about the scruffy world of science-fiction conventions, fan websites and what actors get up to, the more you’ll laugh. While the play hangs on the bond between Marianne and Kate, it’s the new duo of Marianne and Oli that’s most
interesting. How does a faded ‘star’ deal with modern fandom, to be confronted by embarrassing footage from the 80s once thought long destroyed? Can you really be friends with someone who doesn’t see you as a person, but as an icon? When the relationship is partially
transactional, can it be real?

Marina Sirtis is clearly having fun playing against expectations. Her character of Marianne is more space-villain Servalan from Blake’s 7 than her famous role of Counsellor Troi from Star Trek: The Next Generation. On screen she plays a dominating space ruler, at home she is boozy and loud, constantly snacking. Jaqueline King brings a lot of warmth and genuine
emotion to their relationship and Kwaku Mills is endearing as the wide-eyed, awkward fanboy Oli (he manages to avoid annoying parody while still exaggerating each sensation).

There is terrific design and sound work from Tim McQuillen-Wright (set and costumes), Matthew Strachan (music), Sarah Weltman (sound design), Chris Clegg and Clayton Hickman (graphic design). They all clearly know the source material and bring small touches that had the audience grinning with approval.

How much you enjoy Dark Sublime will be in direct correlation with how much you enjoy the shaky walls and dodgy dialogue of old-school science-fiction, but knowing the deep connection these shows have with the LGBTQ community that seems like a safe bet.

By Chad Armstrong

Dark Sublime runs at London’s Trafalgar Studios from Tuesday 25th June until Saturday 3rd August 2019. For more information on the production and to purchase tickets head to the Trafalgar Studios website

Read The Queer Review’s Exclusive Interview with Dark Sublime playwright Michael Dennis.

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