“Can we, really quickly, talk about the boobs?” my companion asks later in the pub. Come the third week of May, there’s a certain amount of festival fatigue setting in everywhere. Personally, I’ve seen quite a lot of work which has challenged, inspired, confused and amazed this month. I was hankering to spend this Tuesday evening on my sofa watching Noel Clarke on Sky One, sliding across car bonnets, smoking gun in hand. Luckily, this temptation didn’t win out. Instead we’d headed down to Hove’s The Old Market to see Dollywould, a show about… Well, what is it really about? It’s certainly not a drag show, like first impressions had led me to believe. Well it kind of is. No, no it’s not.
Presented by Sh!t Theatre, DollyWould is touching, hilarious and inventive. Explaining what it actually is however is no easy task. Part road-trip account, part musical, part physical comedy, part drag act (I can’t ignore the drag element) and part biography, it’s decidedly unilinear in nature and vigorously self-referential. Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit offer their ‘mainstream cross-over show’ – an exploration of the unmistakable Dolly Parton brand.
It opens with a recording of Dolly Parton on her Barbara Walters Special, the pair rendering her answers to some quite barbed enquiry into song and highlighting their earnest poetry. It’s one constantly evolving element of a work which features clowning, singing and breasts. There’s lots of breasts, which the pair somehow manage to make strangely empowering. It’s undeniable an ample bosom remains key to the ‘Dolly look’.
It’s a look which has launched plenty of imitators, which the pair use to create a boisterous conversation about identity and reality. With no little glee, they suddenly shift focus to another Dolly – the world’s first clone mammal. You can imagine their delight, when they reveal this ground-breaking experiment used DNA sourced from her mother’s udder. This is how we continue, weaving connections between seemingly disparate points.
They want you to think this is all rather shambolic, but one truth is it’s not. There’s some very clever timing, especially when interacting with their A/V portions. They keep using the word chaos. It isn’t. There’s a fair bit of manipulation and suggestion at play. As they wander along the line dividing utter fabrication and cold reality, you start wondering if you can even believe the documented evidence being presented. Even Dolly’s own words are being used out of context, somehow helping hammer home a point of irony.
It’s a Tuesday night, and suddenly I realise (again) why Brighton Fringe is important. You’ll never see something this wonderful, personal and gleefully demented in a corporate venue. Effortlessly the show hops around, constructing its own playful narrative from a jumble of five or six very different parts. The duo perform in complete harmony (for as long as they see fit), discussing their trip to Tennessee’s DollyWood theme park, and the lesser alluring Body Farm just down the road. It’s a balance of decay and immortality, imitation and individuality. One which makes the on-looker so giddy they eventually giggle every time the phrase ‘nails and teeth’ is repeated. We laughed, I nearly cried, almost no-one had an idea what might be happening, but everybody left better for the experience – and wanted to talk about the boobs.
Shit Theatre’s DollyWould is at The Old Market until Fri 25 May, as part of Brighton Fringe 2018