Monday evening. Soho. Raining. Tower Street. Dark Dates, anyone? Zoe Cunningham, member of the Techerati by day, performer and presenter by night, and director Peta Lily put on an excellent adaptation of Tracey Sinclair’s novel at the Tristan Bates Theatre, which looks and, appropriately feels like the inside of a coffin. Good start.
Or rather, bad start, because badness is what Dark Dates, the play, is all about. It’s really rather pathetic. In the poetic sense of course. Zoe, beautifully ironic, totally deadpan, is Cassandra, the over-nice, caring and Sensitive (as in, in possession of the dubious honour of being able to tell when somebody passing as human is actually supernatural) proprietor of a dating agency, for humans, and blood sucking, ghoulish vampires; but who are the real victims? Zoe, or, depending on how you look at it, Cassandra’s performance is bewitching; the script asks a lot of questions of the actor, answered politely yet emphatically with a sense of timing perfectly attuned to the excellent sound and lighting.
The evening begins unexpectedly. The audience invited to file into the theatre, and here’s Casandra to greet them, all smiles and nervous energy. Everyone must identify themselves, and then there’s the house rules. Its comic, and yet somewhere, somehow, there are undertones of menace. Where are they coming from?
The bar, as it turns out, because that is where Medea has gone, to fix us some drinks. Medea is Cassandra’s…best friend? Business partner? Nemesis? Nothing is given away, the audience are made to work at it. And work they do; a “couple” of them end up on stage. It’s funny, irreverent. Cassandra’s determination to carry out her duties in spite of the mysterious and elemental elephant in the room creates an awesome tension.
Nobody wants to break the spell, but there are so many questions that ought to be answered. Are any of us safe? All of a sudden Soho on a wet and moody Monday night seems laden with foreboding, especially if you are heading home alone, or somebody who might be considered, a sucker? All we can do is listen and learn from Cassandra, and she is a far from reliable narrator, given to flights of fancy. Or so it seemed at first.
Zoe’s portrayal of Cassandra is a classy theatrical tour de force. She works all kinds of unsettling neuroses into a superficially simple character, and, as her story unfolds, we begin to understand that, in life, in London, being “nice” is as deadly and dangerous as being, well a vampire.
Cassandra’s wounds aren’t quite self-inflicted, but there is a rabbit in the headlights feel to Cassandra’s rambling yet strangely perceptive soliloquising that is deeply unsettling. Perhaps, after all, she might be better off…dead? Undead? No body is safe. And what will become of her? In a neat way, Cassandra, just like Zoe, is being manipulated by somebody off stage. Where will it all end?
Short but sweet, touching and close to home (especially if you live in East London), Dark Dates more than holds its own as a piece of theatre, and as a fantastic advert for the 2 novels written by Tracey Sinclair. The humour is unpredictable, from the air-kissing that accompanies the agencies theme tune, to some classic slapstick as the terminally confused Cassandra overdoses on an intoxicating whirlwind of emotions and considerations that are completely beyond her intellectual capacity. Hilariously tragi-comic.
Zoe / Cassandra’s final flourish piece is delivered in an almost matter of fact fashion, as if the team sense that they have been working with good material; it’s deliberate, and it works; a packed audience, in on the joke, never appeared anything other than won over. No mean achievement. No mean play.
Zoe Cunningham was performing as Cassandra Bick in Dark Dates, adapted by Zoe Cunningham and Peta Lily for stage and based on the novel Dark Dates by Tracey Sinclair. You can catch Dark Dates at the Brighton Fringe, for details, click here.