“Foster and Lams communicate this physical and emotional closeness with heartbreaking conviction”
Everybody needs a little escape from the ordinariness of life once in a while. But how long do you get until life starts to creep back in?
Nadia and Daniel are just starting out together. They’re at the good bit, at the beginning when everything is fun and exciting; they’re kind to each other, they feel passionately about one another. And they’re both married. Rather than telling the story of the people waiting at home, Kenny Emson takes the road less travelled and instead explores the emotional toll for those within the affair.
From the very beginning this relationship is doomed to beget pain and anguish. Even as Nadia and Daniel agree on eleven rules (“one better than God”) in order to protect themselves, they almost immediately start breaking them. But what is most touching and unusual about this story is the palpable affection they have for one another. We know that both parties have oblivious partners and innocent children; that they’re constantly lying to the people they love, but somehow, we’re still rooting for them.
Stripping it back to a pile of pillows and a few neon lights, Eleanor Rhode’s direction leans mostly on good story-telling and strong performances from both Jon Foster (Daniel) and Claire Lams (Nadia). We’re privy to the kinds of unabashed conversations you’d have only in the seclusion of the bedroom, but Foster and Lams communicate this physical and emotional closeness with heartbreaking conviction.
That being said, the design (Max Johns) is deceptively simple, the white stack of pillows providing a hiding place for multiple small but instrumental accessories to the narrative. Neon lighting (Jess Bernberg) hanging vertically serves to alter the mood drastically throughout the play, taking us from candle-lit intimacy to bare-bulb severity.
Though the entire story takes place in a small one-bed flat, the narrative scope is huge. An understated tragedy, beautifully written and well executed.
“as the story unfolds, the main thread becomes a little tangled and indefinite”
There is a touch of Michael Keaton’s ‘Birdman’ as Marina Sirtis, best known for her role as Deanna Troi in ‘Star Trek’, takes to the stage to play a hard-working actress who, years on, can’t seem to shake the shadow of her biggest role.
An eager twenty one year-old fan (Kwaku Mills) turns up at the door of a jaded, middle-aged actress (Sirtis) to interview her about a cult sci-fi programme that she starred in decades before, and they strike up an unlikely friendship.
The main narrative is spliced with scenes from an unaired episode of ‘Dark Sublime’. Living room furniture doubles up as hammy spaceship tech as Simon Thorp darts about, speaking to his chatty computer (Mark Gatiss) via his wrist with great urgency. The switch between ordinary life and sci-fi sets us up for a fun paralleling of plotlines – presumably ‘reality’ will eventually dovetail with ‘fantasy.’
However, as the story unfolds, the main thread becomes a little tangled and indefinite, combining multiple subplots of unrequited love, professional frustration, generational differences, as well as the tie between the LGBTQ community and sci-fi. It’s a bit much to have all of this going on simultaneously.
Writer Michael Dennis was clearly trying to interlace plot points as much as possible, but it thins out the audience’s focus. Marianne’s unrequited love of her best friend Kate (Jacqueline King), for example, partially overshadows the crux of the story, and gives cause for an ill-fitting scene of somewhat cloying sentiment between Kate and her girlfriend Suzanne (Sophie Ward). This scene then gives way to another snippet of ‘Dark Sublime’, but the clash of genre is now slightly bizarre and distracting.
Similarly, the effective use of living room furniture as futuristic hi-tech is diluted when the living room also doubles up as a hotel conference or a park, with no prop changes beside the TV screen showing either a picture of Alexandra Palace or a conference logo (Tim McQuillen-Wright).
Andrew Keates’ direction places a particular emphasis on Oli’s initial draw to ‘Dark Sublime’ as a gay teenager in a small town looking for a necessary escape: the few times it’s mentioned, Oli is bathed in red light (Neil Brinkworth) and stands to deliver a short but dramatic homily. But there isn’t that much stress on this particular point within the script, so it seems a little out of sync.
Whilst there are a few quippy lines, there is often a sense that you have to be ‘in’ on the joke, which, I presume, I wasn’t. On the whole, Keates and Dennis have been overly ambitious and tried to squeeze far too much in. There are a lot of interesting aspects touched upon – the idea of fandom in relation to an actor’s reality for example, or the tie between the LGBTQ community and sci-fi – but I think they would be best served if they didn’t have to fight so much for focus and stage time.