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Doll - How far would you go for love?

Reviewed by Ellie Cansdale

Common People Theatre Productions has recently been to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2022 as part of Bloomin’ Buds Theatre Company Programme of Working Class Theatre, with their gritty new play Doll. You might recognise the play as they previewed their show at Stage@leeds where it was reviewed by our wonderful Will Challis. The play was written by Leah Hand and co-directed by Lewis Fraser, Morgan Scriven and Leah Hand.

It’s hard to write a review about a play we have already reviewed so well, so I will keep this brief. Doll follows the life of Cassie Stark (expertly played by Leah Hand) as she moves down south to London after living her life in the Wirral. She tries to fit in with her coworkers but finds that her life lends itself more to work, pub, bowl of cereal, sleep repeat. We see a series of “shit tinder dates” she’s thrown in alongside a drink of overpriced prosecco to “spice things up a bit”. Then one fateful night, she meets Harley Warren; the polite and charming ‘bad-boy’ with money.

Morgan Scriven enters the space with an air of such confidence that the audience and Cassie are immediately captivated. We watch his every move as Cassie falls deep into his eyes and follows him across London for a night on the town. The two get very close very quickly though Cassie is adamant “nothing happened” when they spent the night on a poor lass’s sofa bed. The pair play off each other very well and we are enthralled by their budding romance as they begin a relationship that follows an unusual path.

One evening in their romantic journey, we see the two at a fancy restaurant drinking expensive wine and talking about nothing in particular when Harley’s business partner, Harry Clark, (played by Lewis Fraser) shows up. There’s a twist in Harley as his bravado starts to melt in front of us and we watch their conversation unfold away from Cassie’s ears.

Fraser plays a slightly frantic and frustrated Clark, giving us more information about what Harley really does. Phrases float in the conversation like “business recruitment” and “big sell” in reference to Cassie that begin to make the audience question what is happening and should we be worried. Harley returns to his date for the evening and she begins to question him on this mysterious character she didn’t get introduced to. Warren dismisses her and asks her for a favour. She agrees much to the audiences’ concern but asks for more information. Calmly, Warren begins to explain it’s for his work, and that what he actually does for a living; not “avon” like Cassie guessed but selling Sex Dolls.

The audience and Cassie fall into a bout of laughter, that’s not well received by Warren who snaps at us, with a foreshadowing bout of seriousness. With a sudden change back to full confidence, a thick layer of aggressive lights flash red when Warren grabs Stark’s arm and tension fills the room.

We follow the two’s tumultuous relationship after this moment as the love gets stronger, the trust between them builds, but our trust in Harley’s intentions becomes more and more tested by the minute.

In the final scene of the play, all of the events of the story are wrapped up in a crazy Tarantino-esque extravaganza, where all parties involved in Harley’s schemes meet. We are introduced to Police Officer Stephen Davies, played by Community Actor in his debut role Robert Blowman. We learn that Davies, alongside Warren and Clark, have set up Stark in a bid to solve all their criminal ties, but she won’t give in. Blowman plays a strong and moral Officer who, at the last second, decides he can’t go through with the plan. A scene full of extreme emotion, we are all on the edge of our seats to find out what will happen next and we are left with a voice over that explains the aftermath of this unexpected thriller.

Every performance in this play is well executed and embodied with strong skills. The chemistry between the actors allowed the piece to flow well and is held together by their bond. The only set used in the play were two chairs and a table which enabled swift and clever scene changes without much fuss and enabled a simple change of setting.

A note on the tech side of the piece, which was used very cleverly to change scenes and to show the passing of time throughout the story. We hear music from the game Fallout, twisted and distorted alongside pulsing lights that match the distortions for scene transitions, giving the audience a clear break from the action and a moment to reflect on what is happening. Music is also used to greet us as we enter the space, and to set a romantic scene between the couple at the height of their relationship.

Doll is a must see production and has plans to perform at the Rockwell Centre, Bradford soon. Congratulations to Common People Theatre for their successful run at the fringe gaining 4 and 5 star reviews.

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