Let’s make this clear from the start – you don’t have to be a Dolly Parton fan in order to enjoy DollyWould. Though of course you should be ready to attend – and maybe even vie for a ticket – with those who are there on account of their musical taste.
Looking at this show, for the most part it is not even entirely clear that its makers – Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit – are the sort of fans they declare themselves to be either. If you are new to Shit Theatre you might be taken aback by its specific form of charm. The stage is covered in white sheets, there are microphones and loop pedals, and singing (some very crisp and well honed singing, it should be said!), and balloons and stilettos and bare breasts and giant wearable sculptures of breasts, and a swing and projections and a karaoke machine too.
There are clever jokes about the original Dolly and her namesake Dolly the sheep – the first ever successful clone, and some sharp thinking about originality and cloning, and evidence of existing research, and documentation of original research too. There are some ingenious Dolly-style wigs made of matted wool in this show that evoke not only the two Dollys themselves, but potentially also – tongue-in-cheek as everything in this show is – the history of theatrical comedy contained in wigs of various sorts.
You stand to gain a lot from this show in fact if you happen to be a fan of live art or the academic discipline of Performance. For Mothersole and Biscuit call themselves ‘performance artists’ and DollyWould is their ‘crossing over into the mainstream’, as they say. In many ways, DollyWould is actually a superbly constructed essay on fandom, and the performance academic in myself wants to give it a super-First, if there were such a thing.
Mothersole and Biscuit’s choice of subject matter – their shared love of Dolly Parton, they inform us, was the duo’s bid to keep their working relationship going in the face of crisis. They obtained Arts Council funding to travel to Dollywood as part of their research and they dutifully submit all their receipts and the results of their contextual research for our inspection.
What many of us may not have bargained for as part of this piece are the realities of Texas and Tennessee -such as the Body Farm, a research facility for decomposition and forensic anthropology which neighbours Dolly Parton’s amusement park. They deploy all these seemingly incidental findings as their tools in analysing the phenomenon of Dolly and they feed it all through their own subjective prism of identity politics too.
A deeply forensic approach of their own to the decades of interviews made with Parton reveal a potential for seeing the star’s personal life in a light different to the one presented to the public, elevating her status as a lesbian icon. And to seal their undying devotion to this icon, Mothersole and Biscuit have come back from Textas with their own Dolly tattoos emblazoned on their thighs.
It is a skilled and clever show, a fusion of very disparate elements, artistic tastes and audience profiles that may never have met anywhere else otherwise. The show is selling out its Edinburgh run for the second year running and the audience leaves in a chirpy if somewhat bamboozled state. By all accounts DollyWould is a success, though maybe not by any standards familiar to us just as yet.
DollyWould is on until 26 August 2018 at Summerhall. Click here for more details.