If you follow me on social media, you are fully aware of the extent of my excitement and appreciation for Dark Sublime, but for those of you who have stumbled upon this blog post by mistake (very plausible) or by chance and are actually reading through it, you might not know what Dark Sublime is or why I have been raving about it for the last six months or so. This is in no way a review, I am pretty sure I am incapable of that, but it sure is a long, drawn out, love letter to fandom life and this magnificent play which will always have a special place in my heart.
Dark Sublime is the first play written by Michael Dennis and, after seeing it three times, I have come to the conclusion that he is a nerd of epic proportions and should be cherished by the whole nation if not the whole universe. The play is an ode to old school British sci-fi, a genre that has been ensnaring people for fifty odd years. Shows like Doctor Who, Star Trek, Stargate, Battlestar Galactica and many more have been shaping entire generations.
Science-Fiction has magical powers, we all know that. It has the power to give people hope, make people think and feel, to talk about political everyday issues and human rights while exploring new faraway places, encountering new alien species, travelling through time and transporting people onto the newest, shiniest starships the future has to offer providing at times means to escape reality and in others, moments of deep reflection. The way science-fiction embraces reality and fiction is so seamless at times and you are unwittingly lead into a new whole dimension. I still remember the first time I ever watched Battlestar Galactica, the first sci-fi show I have ever fallen completely head over heels in love with, and being blown away by, not only the actors’ performance, but the storylines and the way they incorporated so many elements of contemporary society. Sci-fi opens the door to a multitude of topics to discuss and the alien elements, and I’m not talking about little green men but what the human mind perceives as strange and foreign, somehow give everything new light which allows further understanding of concepts that we might not be fully comfortable with in real life.
The moment Dark Sublime was announced I simply couldn’t deal with how excited I was and, to be completely honest, it wasn’t the play I was excited about, it was leading lady and sass master extraordinaire Marina Sirtis that got me all a flutter. Deanna Troi won my heart fairly quickly once I got onto the TNG wagon. Not only was she beautiful and clever, but she was the heart and soul of the Enterprise. This will come as a surprise to many but it was the accent that did it for me. I know, I know but bear with me. I got into Star Trek soon after moving to London and as a twenty year old Italian girl with dark hair, dark eyes and a bit of an accent, Deanna Troi looked a little bi like me but had her shit together and she was exactly what I needed. My love for Deanna Troi paved the way for my deep appreciation for Marina Sirtis, an absolute powerhouse, fuelled by sarcasm and jokes but with a heart of gold. I have seen her with my own eyes sneakily steal a biscuit from Gates McFadden’s desk at a comic-con and hand it over to a kid. I didn’t get a cookie, which was very disappointing, but the expression on that kid’s face was enough. That was the last comic-con before Dark Sublime started rehearsing and what cemented my love for the play. I got to meet the director, Andrew Keates, and one of the producers, Piers Cottee-Jones, and their genuine enthusiasm for the project was mind blowing. The way they embraced every single fan and welcomed them to the Dark Sublime family, their social media presence and how they tried to involve people in the making of the play and set challenges like #fansfromfaraway or #hometownfans got future members of the audience, myself included, more and more excited.
My love for sci-fi shows pushed me out of my comfort zone multiple times over the years. I got to travel across the country to different comic-cons or across Europe for more events and even an impromptu trip to Galway last month for Kate Mulgrew’s book signing where I got to know some pretty cool people. Social media and comic-sons have made it possible for e to break out of my protective shell and make finds. I know people al over the world because of fandom life and when we always meet up if we have a chance to do so. We go to comic con together. We have weddings, babies and the whole shebang. We have theatre and bubble tea dates and a standard noodles appointment in Chinatown whenever are schedules align. I love the life that I have created thanks to being part of different sci-fi fandoms. I am free to express myself without ever feeling uncomfortable because the people around me just get it.
Dark Sublime has also done a pretty good job for my social life. I finally got to briefly meet James, the most polite and kind human male I’ve ever met, Mel, the coolest goth cat lady I ever got to drink gin tonics with, and the sweetest ladies who travelled from opposite sites of the country to see the show. Star Trek actors and, in particular, Marina are those people that engender loyalty and I know that for the rest of my life, I will be following my Trek ladies (and some of the gentlemen too) to as many comic-cons as I possibly can.
I first saw the play the evening of the first post-show Q&A and that extra half an hour honestly felt like a continuation of the show and had a comic-con feel to it. Questions were asked and answered, jokes were made and teeny tiny Studio 2 transformed itself into convention for the second time that night. Imagine comic-con but with under twenty people, no creeps following you around all day trying to take sneaky pictures of you, and in a pub. That’s exactly what it felt like.
The simplicity of the plot gives space for every single relationship between the individual characters to be explored. When I say “simplicity”, I really mean the way the story is easy to follow, there is no unnecessary drama lurking around the corner, ready to complicate things and making everything that much harder to understand and this allows the characters and their relationship to shine through. It feels like real life and sometimes that’s what’s missing in a show, a movie or a play. Everything has to be “extra” which strips away so much of what people crave: normality. As much as I adore seeing characters in a shows achieving success, fighting crime, shacking up with their heroin-smuggling ex-girlfriend after hey both end up in prison, I need that element of reality that makes it all believable. Michael Dennis writes fiction and keeps it close to reality.
Dark Sublime is ultimately a play about relationships. Love and friendship are what keeps the majority of us going. In the play, we get to explore the friendship between Marianne and Kate and how unrequited love can put a dent in it but not crush it. Their stories are hilarious, the electricity between the two is palpable, Marianne’s wit is a match for Kate’s and you can tell immediately that these two go a long way back and that their friendship will never end. We witness Kate and Suzanne’s budding relationship and unfortunately this is such a novel thing nowadays. I am constantly disappointed by Hollywood’s persistent idea that strong, independent women in a position of power or with a successful career cannot be in a relationship or achieve happiness, especially if they are lesbians. The LGBTQ+ community shines through this play and I am incredibly proud of that.
Another relationship we get to explore is one of the focal points of the play. At first Marianne decides to spend time with Oli, her biggest fan, out of sheer narcissism and indulges his curiosity and excitement. Soon their friendship starts to seem genuine with Marianne enquiring about Oli’s best friend, and also crush, and advises him to come forward with his feelings (even though she had been burnt for the same reason before). By the end of the play, with Kate and Marianne not on speaking terms, the difference between Oli and Marianne start to emerge. While Marianne is desperately trying to cling onto Kate and her friendship, the young man decides to completely sever ties with the boy who broke his heart. By the end of the play, and after a pretty intense discussion with Oli, Marianne still cares for the young man but comes to the conclusion that they can no longer be friends.
I feel deeply for Marianne and Oli’s relationship. I meet actors at comic con all the time and I sometimes get recognised by some (I am in love wit Gates McFadden’s hair just as much as she is with mine) and even just receiving a smidge of recognition from any of the people I admire fills me with happiness. They have that power over fans and some people, like Marina and few others I have met, that make it their mission to give the fans the best experience they can get. I will never forget walking up to Gates McFadden and getting complimented for my hair or Mary McDonnell smiling at me, holding both my hands in hers and thanking me for a little project I made with a friend in the fandom, and I will never forget Marina Sirtis nicknaming me “skinny bean” on a day when I was feeling like crap because I didn’t like how I looked. I was on a high for a couple of weeks after that and then, a month later, I finally saw Dark Sublime , Marina spotted me in the audience after the Q&A, walked up to me and gave me a hug. Those are the moments that I will never forget and will cherish for a long time because those few seconds where a person I admire is paying full attention to me is all the extra validation I need.
For the last ten or so years I have been told countless times that I was wasting my time watching so much television or reading all those books or seeing all those plays, but now I am 25 and I upped and moved to a different country five years ago, I have a full time job and a squadron of friends and, weirdly enough, I have to thank sci-fi for it. If I had never started watching Doctor Who I would have never moved to London, I would have never met my first fandom family and got my life going.
I see myself on the stage of Dark Sublime and at the same time, I am fully comfortable being part of the audience. This play is everything I have ever wanted as a “professional” fangirl. It has the quirkiness of the best sci-fi characters and the profundity that we all seek in our life. The play feels like an old friend, like that someone in your life that you go to for comfort. I know I am doing nothing but gushing about this show but every single aspect of it really warms my heart and I am not ready to say goodbye.