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Dark Sublime

by on 18 January 2022

Subliminal Messages?

Dark Sublime

by Michael Dennis

Progress Company at Progress Theatre, Reading until 22nd January

Review by Nick Swyft

How many young gay men would take the trouble to track down Jacqueline Pearce, who played Servalan in the 80’s science fiction series Blakes 7? Actually, probably quite a lot, and if you are one of those, this play is definitely for you.  Read Dark Sublime for Blakes 7, and you’re there.

It is about the relationship of one such fan with his idol.  The actor in question, in the world of the play, is Marianne Hogg (Melanie Sherwood) who played the evil Ragana in the series Dark Sublime.  It is, however, more about Marianne and her issues, than it is about the fan, Oli (Dean Stephenson).  Marianne lives with a female companion, Kate (Ali Carroll), and their unstable relationship provides a brooding backdrop to the action, which Oli inadvertently draws out.

At just under three hours, this is an ambitious production, both for the team and the audience.  Like a long novel, if you’re not in the right frame of mind from the start, you will find your concentration flagging.  This was certainly true during the first act, especially since Oli’s awkwardness might easily be confused with an actor being unsure of his lines, which is distracting.  A lot of the lumpy dialogue between him and Marianne could have been cut.  He adores her because of who she is, and she adores him because he is her only fan.  There might have been a slicker way of conveying that.

The second act, however, brings the play together very well.  It opens with Oli presenting at the convention he has put together, essentially in Marianne’s honour, and it is very funny.  This, and other scenes, leave us wondering if the atmosphere of, say, a Star Trek convention are as cheesy.  One hopes not, but it probably is!

We then move on to a conversation with Kate and her lover Suzanne (Stephanie Gunner-Lucas).  This is very well acted and genuinely moving.  Here we learn about the underlying causes of the tensions between Kate and Marianne.  It is, perhaps, the best scene in the play.

The play is intercut with scenes from the TV series itself, featuring the hero of Dark Sublime, Vykar, effectively played by the sleazy Bob Fraser (Gareth Saunders), and the voice of the slightly too involved computer, Kosley (Jo Metcalf).  It ends with the lost episode Oli has been pestering Marianne for and never actually sees, which draws parallels with the real lives we have been watching, although you could easily miss them.  For aficionados of ’80s science fiction it is a lot of fun anyway.

One of the things that lifts the play is that it is peppered with very funny one liners.  The one that comes to mind is when Oli reassures Marianne by telling her she is not ‘complete shit’, to which she replies that it is one of the best reviews she’s had!

Fun fact: the London premiere of Dark Sublime in 2019 featured Marina Sirtis, Deanna Troi of Star Trek (TNG) fame, playing Marianne.  A hard act to follow.

Nick Swyft, January 2022

Photography by Aidan Moran

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