Watching the projected opening credits to Dark Sublime it would be easy to mistake it for an actual British sci-fi TV show of the 1980s. This opening montage featured the actors appearing in dramatic poses complete with comical costumes and hair, alongside the obligatory plastic guns in lurid colours as each character poses to camera; it all sets the scene perfectly.
A truly uplifting and special piece of theatre
We are introduced, in present day, to Marianne (a wonderfully gentle portrayal by Patti Griffiths): the star of said show. Her career peaked with Dark Sublime and she is living in the past – interestingly, not because of the show, but due to her love for her best friend Kate (Tess Gill), who does not reciprocate. Their friendship is in a pattern of unspoken knowing about this unrequited love, but neither of them quite break free from the push and pull of it. Into that mix are thrown two newcomers: a new partner for Kate: Suzanne (Kate Purnell) who throws things a little off balance with her calm acceptance of the situation and her quiet refusal to be put off by Marianne; and perhaps, most importantly, the bouncing energetic catalyst of Oli (Robert Purchese): an uber-fan of the Dark Sublime TV show.
The play moves between scenes from Dark Sublime, which are so truthful to the time they are set and delightfully staged and acted. They are slotted into the development of all of their relationships in present day, and the impact Oli has which moves and changes the patterns of all of their lives. He appears like a comet, causing a certain amount of excitement and chaos. In less skilled hands this could have been a dull affair, but playwright Michael Dennis has the depth and gravitas in his writing of the multi-faceted characters, combined with some of the best ever comedy one-liners. There are so many genuine laugh-out-loud moments, and some delicious double entendres. There is a beautiful attention to detail for all the characters including Marianne’s obsession with different varieties of snacks and sweets placed in bowls for herself or guests. Joseph Bentley’s direction allows the characters to shine in each scene they appear in, whether it is as themselves or as the characters from the show which each of them also play.
There are lovely performances from the whole cast including Steven Adams, who should also be congratulated for the amazing multi-functional and light flashing set. However, it is Robert Purchese’s portrayal of Oli which lifts this production to something truly special. He embodies the character from head to toe, with great comedic physicality alongside the full range of emotions, from super fan to disappointment in love. His skill is to play the character seriously, which makes it all the more hilarious. His reaction to the possibility of a long lost episode was an utter joy to behold. A truly uplifting and special piece of theatre: one that will stay in the memories of those present.