Written by Will Challis
This article contains references to abusive relationships, violent crime and sexual themes.
Common People Theatre Company’s new play ‘Doll’, written, and co-directed by Leah Hand, Morgan Scriven and Lewis Fraser, previewed in Leeds yesterday. The show, set to run at the Edinburgh Fringe is a blow up success, despite some minor air leaks.
Hapless yet headstrong Cassie Stark (Hand) becomes a fish out of water after moving to London from the Wirral. Suffering from loneliness in a new city, Cassie tries her luck on the dating scene, but a series of failed dates with eccentric yet odious characters like Damien, a self-important alumnus of the Widnes Academy of Dramatic Art and Chris, a pseudo-spiritual ‘male manipulator’ who wants nothing more than to “exchange energies” with Cassie leaves much to be desired. Most evenings, Cassie finds herself kicking her heels at her local Greene King chugging Prosecco at £7.50 a glass like a Holly Golightly from Wish.com.
And then there was Harley Warren (Morgan Scriven), a charming and mysterious purveyor of, naturally, inflatable sex dolls. He takes an unusually quick liking to Cassie and the two embark on a fast-moving, whirlwind romance that soon descends into a nightmare of deceit, corruption and criminal exploitation. Credit goes to Scriven for his performance of Harley, adopting a beguiling and confident manner, manipulating not only Cassie but also the audience during the forty-minute piece. Conversations with audience members after the show revealed that they too were blinded by Harley’s fantastical expressions of adoration, while the more cynical viewers immediately clocked on to Harley’s love bombing tactics.
All photography by Abby Swain (@aswainphotography on Instagram)
Hand masterfully strikes a balance between comedy and crime thriller, managing to totally and utterly stun the audience when the narrative unexpectedly turns sour. Conflict scenes are convincingly constructed, despite an awkward standoff between bent coppers Harry Clark (Lewis Fraser) and Steven Davies (Robert Blowman) which unfortunately brings down the energy of the scene. Working on snappy and confident line delivery, whether that be through going over the script again or character workshopping, will be worth a try. Still, Fraser can be praised for their highly realistic execution of stage combat and first-time actor Blowman for his excellent characterisation of Davies, the gruff police officer. The energy of the climax is truly exhilarating and Hand, Scriven and Fraser manage to make it carry in a venue as large as the Alec Clegg studio at stage@leeds. When Doll is ultimately taken to the much smaller Fife Theatre at theStage on North Bridge, the atmosphere will surely be even more electric, and the set design, minimalist to facilitate scene transitions, will not appear as insignificant.
Music plays an interesting role throughout Doll. “Maybe” and “Whispering Grass (Don’t Tell The Trees)” by the Ink Spots are leitmotifs in the play, mainly in the interludes between scenes. Bill Kenny’s tenor voice has a cry quality to it which adds a haunting layer to the story, and the bittersweet instrumentation provides an air of eeriness when played over such violence and horror. Fans of the Fallout series will recognise “Maybe” from its ironic juxtaposition against the unbearable dread of a post-apocalyptic society. It comes as no surprise to hear the fairly innocent and non-threatening track used to create an unsettling atmosphere in Doll, but this time becoming gradually warped as the narrative gets more twisted. Perhaps the company would like to experiment with using the track without audio manipulation. It is haunting enough as it is and using distortion to convey creepiness could run the risk of being a cliche.
Where Doll avoids cliches is in its amorality. Hand writes about an abusive relationship without overtly spelling it out and also without completely victimising her protagonist. What Hand may be trying to preach, however, is never to move to London.
Catch this cautionary tale of the perils of dating in London at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe every day except Sundays between 8th-27th August.
Book your tickets here