DOLLY, Andy Barrett
In association with New Perspectives Theatre Company.
Runs: 2h 5m, 15 min interval to 2 October.
Touring East Midlands to 30 October.
Review: Ian Spiby, Thursday 29th September 2010
Multi-talented cast sing their way through genetic complexities
Everyone knows about Dolly, the cloned sheep, but few appreciate just how world-shattering her birth was. Even fewer understand the complexities of the genetics involved. And this is what DOLLY seeks to address.
The story itself is fairly mundane. Dolly is created in the test tube, born to a surrogate mother, lives, gives birth to lambs and dies. In order to ginger things up, Andy Barrett has created a parallel story of the trials and tribulations of Bettina, a Dolly Parton imitator (or tribute act).
Director, Daniel Buckroyd has assembled an eight-strong multi-talented group of actor/musicians/puppeteers who play the characters and sing and play Dolly Parton’s Country and Western music. And the whole thing is done with a great deal of élan which had the audience tapping their toes and clapping their hands. Miriam Elwell-Sutton as Bettina tells the story and sings the songs with a real sense of feeling while the other actors not only play a variety of characters with both humour and compassion but also perform on at least two musical instruments each.
The functional set is well conceived, designed not only to fit into the variety of odd spaces the company will find themselves in on tour but to provide the idea of a place of entertainment. For the play itself, particularly noteworthy are the scenes where we are fed the complex facts about genetics and cloning. These work brilliantly – I didn’t feel lectured at but by the end I certainly knew a lot more about the subject than when I entered the theatre.
There are difficulties however. The attempt to draw an analogy between Dolly the sheep and Dolly the singer is hard to sustain and Country and Western is simply too fragile to bear the weight of philosophy, ethics and religion that is loaded upon it. Serious issues are flagged up and then quickly dropped, never to be referred to again. For instance, the question of the scientist’s responsibility to the truth, to which both Ibsen and Brecht have devoted whole plays, comes and goes in less than two minutes.
There are other problems too. One of Country and Western’s appeals is its sentimentality but I found it difficult to care sufficiently about Dolly’s personal demise when accompanied, in close harmony, by “We shall meet in the sweet bye and bye”. But these caveats aside, the play works well and I suspect will work even better once it reaches the community venues on tour.
Cast: Mary: Kate Adams, Neil: John Elkington, Bettina: Miriam Elwell-Sutton, Gavin/Jim: Gred patmore, Leo: Christopher Redmond, Isla/Helen: Claire Story, Ensemble: George Chalmers, Ensemble/Puppeteer: Charlotte Higgins.
Director: Daniel Buckroyd, Musical Director/Arranger: Richard Reeday, Designer: Juliet Shillingford, Lighting Designer: Stuart Crohill, Sound Designer: Adam McCready, Production Manager: Mandy Ivory-Castille, Stage Manager: Jennifer Parente, Puppet maker: Sue Pycroft, Design Assistant: Becky Islip.