Monday, 23 May 2022

Bittersweet, nostalgic examination of real life

THIS highly inventive offering from Progress Theatre is by Michael Dennis, directed by Aidan Moran.

We see likeable, faded actress Marianne (Melanie Sherwood) looking back on her life and television career.

She has a close but spiky relationship with best friend Kate (Ali Carroll), who has recently partnered up with new love Suzanne (Stephanie Gunner-Lucas).

Aidan Moran’s cheery set design —Marianne’s flat — immediately draws the audience in. Clever use of lighting (Jon Churchill) and sound (Stuart McGubbin) turns the apartment into a convention, a pub, a park — and even the flight deck of a starship.

The ordinary mixes with the fantastic as naturalistic conversation scenes are interspersed with parodic clips from sci-fi television drama.

The wry and witty script is really funny. Dennis slickly combines the mundane with the fanciful. Deadpan delivery from the cast allows the humour to hit home.

Sherwood is arresting as the has-been television star, given a new lease of life when approached by geeky super-fan Oli, winningly portrayed by Dean Stephenson.

Oli’s earnest enthusiasm for the Seventies TV drama Dark Sublime gives Marianne an opportunity to reminisce about her heyday. An unlikely, symbiotic friendship develops between the two, showing that disappointment is a feeling shared by mature and young alike.

Act 2 opens with a Dark Sublime convention in Walsall. Stephenson does a magnificent comic job of welcoming the delegates to the event, where we meet former Dark Sublime actor, Bob. Gareth Saunders is very convincing as the sleazy Bob and masterful as his alter-ego Vykar.

We see Kate and Suzanne visiting Alexandra Palace, a nod to the cultural importance of TV.

Carroll and Gunner-Lucas are touching as the women in deeply reflective mood; we know this is a relationship likely to endure.

Themes explored in the play at large — searching for something, power struggles, jeopardy, letting go — are echoed in the parody TV sci-fi scenes.

For all the laughs, this is a play in praise of love. The play’s title is taken from lines by W H Auden, who recommends being the more loving partner in any relationship.

Will Marianne learn to let go and allow the relationship between Kate and Suzanne to thrive?

Dark Sublime is a bittersweet, nostalgic examination of real life — and life as enacted on screen — engagingly staged by Progress.

Susan Creed

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