Trafalgar Studios, London, Thursday 1st August, 2019
Marianne is an actor who appeared in a space opera telly series decades ago. The show has since developed a cult following, but to her it was just a job. She is contacted by super-fan Oli who wants to interview her for his podcast, and a kind of friendship is established between the two. Meanwhile, Marianne’s drink-fuelled jealousy flares up when her BFF Kate announces she has found a new girlfriend, Suzanne.
Michael Dennis’s sparkling new play sheds light on a range of matters of the heart: fandom – the adulation of those we admire (perhaps disproportionately to their merits!); what is fleeting in life, and what lasts longer; but chiefly it deals with the one-sided nature of relationships, the unrequited love that can taint and even jeopardise a friendship. Along the way, we have a lot of fun with scenes from the cod-science fiction show, reminiscent of Blake’s 7 and other British fantasy television.
Star Trek The Next Generation’s Marina Sirtis stars as Marianne the faded actress, brimming with anecdotes and camp one-liners. Her portrayal keeps to the right side of satire; Sirtis also gives us the vulnerability beneath the barbs and the heavy drinking, while displaying a skill for comic timing that is perfectly hilarious.
As Oli, Kwaku Mills practically vibrates with nervous excitement, burbling on in the presence of his idol. He’s sweet and touching, a lonely gay boy who seeks solace in a defunct TV show, which offers a haven from the harshness of his reality. Jacqueline King also shows a nice line in embittered barbs, as Marianne’s more down-to-earth best friend, Kate, a strong woman at home in her skin. Sophie Ward is spot on as Kate’s English rose girlfriend Suzanne, while Simon Thorp hams it up delightfully as Vykar, a heroic figure from the TV show, and later as Bob, the lecherous actor who plays him. I detect more than a hint of the late, great Paul Darrow in his intonations and it’s marvellous.
Completing the ensemble is the voice of Mark Gatiss as Kosley the computer. There are ray guns and convention-goers in alien cosplay, and the dense, impenetrable dialogue of the genre, declaimed with straight faces. The nostalgia factor is strong but it’s very much a play of the now, of how subsequent generations experience the world differently, and it’s about loneliness and love.
Director Andrew Keates makes a virtue of the close confines of Studio 2 so we get the intimacy of Marianne’s flat and we get to be part of the action in the sci-fi scenes. Tim McQuillen-Wright’s design gives Marianne’s flat a retro look, while serving up Servalan bacofoil glamour in the TV show.
For me, the real star is Michael Dennis’s remarkable script, which is relentlessly funny as it navigates the human heart. Brought to life by a stellar cast, the play speaks to me directly in a number of ways and I emerge feeling seen, satirised and celebrated.
Out of this world!