Review: FIRST 2015: Dark Dates, Tristan Bates Theatre

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The Tristan Bates Theatre is a hugely appropriate venue for a vampire-themed tale in that there is no natural light to speak of. As the popular FIRST series continues, Dark Dates tells the tale of Cassandra Bick, a likeable Londoner who just happens to run a dating agencies for vampires.

Performed by Zoe Cunningham, and written by both Cunningham and Fringe First winner, Peta Lily, the script is strong and Bick is played with a likeable manic edge that hints at the current inner turmoil her character is experiencing in the more melancholy second half of the piece.

Dark Dates immerses its audience in Bick’s world from the offset as they are greeted by Bick on entrance to the theatre. We, it would seem, are her clients, and are asked to don name stickers and scoring sheets for our potential sharp-toothed suitor. We’re quickly welcomed and introduced to the ground rules of the Dark Dates dating service which makes for plenty of opportunities for humour; no PDBs (public displays of biting), no flash photography, and a two drink limit as vampires don’t like alcohol in the blood.

So far, so fun and Cunningham moves around the stage with great energy and attack. There is a segment of audience participation handled confidently as two male strangers are required to second guess each other’s dating preferences.

Events soon take a more serious turn as we learn of the recent murder of some of Bick’s clients. Humans have been killing vampires, in a departure from what one expect, and Bick is frustrated how the police write it off as “just another vamp crime”.

The show includes several audio motifs, most notably a vampire cackle erupts whenever the name of the dating agency is mentioned, and there are a number of short breaks of frantic movement as Bick takes us through the jubilant night of an award ceremony where she has won an award for Young Female Entrepreneur. These sequences could have been a bit tighter and more uniform but the unpredictability and sensitivity she displays here only endears us to her more.

Cunningham makes an impressive debut in this one-woman show. She clearly knew her character well, and that made the 40 minute duration engaging and captivating. However, at times, her overall pleasantness and general upbeat air distracted what should have been a terrifying descent into darkness as the piece progressed.

Dark Dates played as part of FIRST 2015 at Tristan Bates Theatre. For more information, see the Tristan Bates Theatre website.

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