Intriguing setting, characters and plot but sadly a very unpolished execution. Sublime has a lot of potential – but needs a lot more work to do the concept justice.
Imagine the BBC show, Hustle, but take away the action sequences and leave just the debriefing scenes and obligatory romantic moments. Stretch those out over an hour and forty minutes, stage it with nothing but a few kitchen furnishings and a couple of flats…and then you’ll have Sublime.
There’s an element to the story which, if I were to write about, would ruin the dramatic climax of the first act – so I’ll keep it reasonably detail free. Sophie (Adele Oni), a lifetime criminal returns to her “family home” after two years of hustling overseas and getting herself into debt with Corsican gangsters. Her brother Sam (Michael Fatogun) arrives home to find she has broken into the house, which he now lives in with his girlfriend Clara (Suzy Gill). Sophie does not approve of Clara or Sam’s decision to move away from a life of crime, and starts to lure him back in with promises of money, jewellery and even gold. Before long, the lecherous Nigel (Declan Cooke), Clara’s father, catches wind of Sophie’s dodgy enterprise and wants to try some of the merchandise. All the while Clara, who’s too busy worrying about her office appraisals and her “paleo diet”, doesn’t suspect a thing.
The production felt very much like a first draft. The characters spent too much time talking about their past (the constant mentioning of Sam and Sophie’s mentor “Vic”, whose existence is barely necessary to the plot) and not enough time proving to us that they were hard, street-bred (but intelligent) criminals. Long passages of needless exposition, common in early drafts of scripts, just sounded clunky to the ear. There was a fantastic scene in the second half of the piece where Declan Cooke’s second character Paul (the owner of the club ‘Sublime’) has Sophie and Sam at gun point. It’s tense, moving and, above all, we see the characters in the thick of it (doing what they were meant to be doing). In retrospect, I wouldn’t be surprised if this scene was the kick off point for the entire project. I found it bizarre how one minute the characters could be arguing about something that’s pressing and potentially life threatening (Clara had a platinum ring valued at a store that Sophie may or may not have originally stolen it from) but then, as if it never happened, just continue to talk about a harmless family obligation with cheesy musical smiles on their face. This is the first play written by Sarah Thomas, and you can see from watching Sublime that she has a fantastic imagination. But she has a lot to learn with regards to pace, structure, dialog and tone, as every one of those fundamental aspects went on a bit of rollercoaster ride in this piece.
To a certain degree, the acting is what saved the piece. Adele Oni as Sophie gave a funny and expressive performance, doing the best she could with some very awkward and obvious jokes. Michael Fatogun as Sam was convincing in his more impassioned scenes (ie. at being ‘sad’ and ‘angry’) and almost had me in tears at the moment that I can’t go into detail on. But he fell short in the calmer and more nuanced sections – I think he can afford to hold more back with Sam in these moments and aim to create more of an enigma for the audience to unravel. To his credit though, he had the hardest job – as I feel his character was the least developed from a writing point of view. Suzy Gill is also very funny. You can interpret from the text that Clara has never really had to grow up, due to her father’s fortune and close presence. Gill plays on this well, portraying a convincing childishness and ignorance. But right at the end of the piece, Clara gets quite drunk – and Gill rather surprisingly gave the audience some of the worst drunk acting I’ve ever seen. Declan Cooke had great gravitas in his double role, being both cunning and intimidating in both parts – but I wish he would sometimes give it a bit more energy. He’s clearly talented, so perhaps all he needs to is plant his feet and really own the space he is in.
As I mentioned earlier, there’s an aspect of the story that I can’t give away – but let me just tell you that it’s an incredibly powerful one. It has just the right amount of subtext and tension, and hits the mark 100% with the performances given by Oni and Fatogun. It’s just a shame they couldn’t apply that skill to the glaring problems in the piece. To conclude, I would say that Sublime can’t decide if it’s a kitchen sink drama or pulp fantasy. When it comes to re-writes (which I hope Sarah does attempt as I love the concept), I hope she’ll correct the imbalanced ingredients and bring it back to the stage. Is it worth sitting through the cringeworthy moments to get to the good bits? At the moment, no – not when the ticket prices are £16 a pop. Let’s wait and see, post re-writes, if they bring it back.