Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Bernice Summerfield: Dance of the Dead

The fact that Stephen Cole also penned ‘Plague Herds of Excelis’ (not actually an official part of the Benny main range) pays dividends here because it informally leads directly into this play. Having Bernice awaken from a party with a hangover, alone in strange surroundings is far from odd. Having her on a ship flying away from an alien peace conference isn’t unheard of either. However, courtesy of the build up in Plague Herds, we know and have felt exactly how important this conference is. It also makes this a very good fit for the Ice Warriors.

Matthew Brenher from Red Dawn is back as the lead warrior, this time as Lord Grand Marshal Sstac. He is accompanied by Vivian Perry as General Azzar, a conservative ‘female’ Ice Warrior, which I think  is a first. Perhaps as he’s played a similar role before Sstac does a better job of articulating the Martian culture, but he fails to properly convey the quiet menace and determination that she sucesfully embodies. Although it is interesting to have these characters here, especially given Bernice’s fondness for Mars, its clear that they’ve been designated ‘martian’ in order to draw out potential audience from the Doctor Who range. That’s not a criticism, but although thematically the Ice Warriors make sense given the plays setting we don’t actually see or learn anything about ‘them’ during the play. In fact we don’t even learn that much about Sstac, who comes across as thoroughly noble but otherwise boring. Strange considering he plays the second lead role behind Benny herself.

It all comes down to a standard possession story. Two lovelorn ghosts who died unable to sort out their differences take control of Bernice and Sstac intermittently through the play, eventually reconciling their differences before finally being assigned to oblivion. Although this should be a powerful story it does lead to some horrendous overacting as Lisa Bowerman forces out professions of alternate love and rage with no provocation.

Whereas Plague Herds rushed out a definitive movie scale climax, Dance of the Dead slowly and sedately leads you to its ending; the journey is key. If you’re a fan of the Ice Warriors you’ll probably enjoy Bernice’s chit chat with Sstac. If you want political intrigue, General Azzar provides an interesting diversion from the main plot. Francis Magee makes up the cast with a suitably hard bitten villain, who turns out to be the very steward Iris hired to escort Bernice home. Oops.

I don’t know. My only real gripe is that I found everything else far more interesting than the possession story itself.

Dance of the Dead is a fairly sedate play, perhaps deliberately to counteract Plague Herds of Exclis. It’s calm and earnest. Even if it treads no new ground, it does tread very well.

8 / 10

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