Friday 11th May 2018 at the Live Arts Bistro, Leeds.
Sh!t Theatre duo Becca and Louise love Dolly Parton. They’re fascinated by Dolly the cloned sheep and ideas of mortality and immortality. They’re satirical when it comes to the mind-numbing grasp consumerism has on the average citizen, bemused by the close proximity of preservation and decay out in Tennessee and downright silly whenever the hell they damn like. Dollywould is therefore a rare kind of show in its slightly unhinged approach to entertaining and on some level, educating; there are subtexts aplenty ranging from feminism to existential epiphanies and each finds a place in a show which shuns the concepts of relevance and order in favour of unfettered expression. It’s seemingly spontaneous in its quirky otherness but very much precise and sharply rehearsed and there’s clearly great affection between our performers, with their easy sense of fun making their silliness entertaining when it could well have been dull in other hands.Their youthful, devil-may-care delivery and take on explaining the world makes the laughter infectious – but for all that works well with this piece, I can’t shake the desire for something more solid and structured – I know meta and exploratory, irreverent theatre companies attract audiences based on their anarchy and refusal to fit into any kind of box, but I found myself wanting this to be ever so slightly… neater, for want of a better word. I’d be enjoying the sardonic, sung-through commentaries delivered in perfect impressive unison only to find the pair suddenly clutching onto each other for dear life while half-mumbling, half-groaning something resembling the Islands in the Stream melody or channelling their inner ewe before returning seamlessly to something with more shape and substance as if the previous few moments were merely a warped, dream-like insertion. It cracks you up because it’s so ridiculous and unexpected, but at the same time, it does feel…utterly pointless. HOWEVER, just as you’re thinking as much, they then flip your cynicism the bird and launch into thoroughly entertaining montages of a trip to Dollywood and the nearby Body Farm which rots corpses indefinitely in the name of forensic science.The juxtapositions between the glitzy, ludicrously undiscerning tat sold at the gift shops and the decaying remains of an unknown soul demand contemplation. The contrast between preserving the life of someone so paradoxically connected to both ideas of real heart and stunning artifice and the purposeful destruction of remains at a place just down the road offers up a striking array of food for thought. Use of projections allow them to explore everything the country superstar stands for and has had to stand for – all the while remaining thoroughly in control of her image and ‘brand’. Feminism gets to point one finger and stick another in the air as reels of Dolly questions are pointedly played. Projections also offer hilarious montages of Dolly lookalikes and an endless stream of merch – all accompanied by well timed and well crafted commentary harpooning the concept of fame and a distinctive image as a means of immortality. And that’s genius. I’m just not so sure about the in-between elements which see the pair practising their best hooved animal impressions like they’re up there at their own private party enjoying private jokes – possibly gleefully at our expense. I half imagine the exchangeduring R&R – ‘could we really? Yeaaah, let’s see what we can get away with…’ *hysterical laughter* Regardless of all that though, the performance does remain thoroughly engaging throughout, whether the scenes are outrageous buffoonery or cannily provoking reflection on some of the mysteries of life…If you’re a fan of the quirky, the fearless and the silly, Sh!t Theatre is bound to delight with Dollywould. There’s certainly some method amid the madness, and some of the central probing messages find their way through the mire with relative clarity but I’m sure a fair few things went over my head as I was trying to unpack the reasoning behind the pair humping one another to conquer balloons while dressed as giant mammaries… I mean, mammaries and Dolly Parton; sure – duh! But popping balloons with them? …ummm, can I get back to you on that one?
Dollywould plays at Live Arts Bistro until May 12th 2018 but tickets have already sold out, so try the box office. The show then tours until June 8th 2018 and you can find tickets and venue details here.