Award-winning duo Sh!t Theatre’s Dollywould is a gleefully riotous tribute to the evergreen appeal of Dolly Parton that spans queerness, feminism, immortality and image, all tangled up in the messy trappings of modern female relationships.
A (very) loosely spun narrative sees Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit embark on a trip to Dollywood, Tennessee, in part to recover from a fight that nearly severed their partnership, and partly as a conscious decision to do a show about something that they loved, rather than something they were angry about.
And who doesn’t love Dolly Parton? Who can’t? Is it even possible to hear the opening ‘dur-dur-dur-DUH!’ of ‘9 to 5’ without joining in (you’re singing it now, aren’t you?). The production offers an unapologetic, unironic love letter to this most enduring of stars, while also unpicking her appeal. In theory a tiny, pretty, big-boobed blonde should be mere fodder for the male gaze (and there is a truly disconcerting section of audio where interviewers – mostly, but depressingly not solely, men – merrily dissect and discuss her weight, to her face).
But instead she has emerged as a queer icon, a drag disguise, and an unambiguously ambitious star. She is, quite-literally, a self-made woman, the glossy artifice hiding both talent and heart. But she is also a shrewd and shamelessly savvy businesswoman, whose theme park monetizes every aspect of her life, where past poverty becomes a photo op for fans.
Interspersed with all-things-Dolly are the pair’s irreverent musings on death, cloning and immortality: a trip to the Texas Body Farm (or, at least, the gift shop, because what kind of body farm doesn’t have its own merch?), a visit to see (the now stuffed) Dolly the Sheep. There are many ways to live forever: whether it’s creating a brand so recognizable you are no longer its most convincing face (they make much of the time the singer entered a Dolly Parton lookalike contest – and lost); being cloned into endless copies, each the same but at the same time unique; or sidestepping the anonymity of death by donating yourself to science, your body still decaying but at least it’s still observed. After all, the show asks, don’t we all want to make a mark?
These might be big questions, but the piece isn’t weighed down by answers. It throws ideas out like streamers, letting them fall where they may. Its deft physical comedy is held together by sharp, smart humour and the pair’s well-honed chemistry, keeping a deceptively tight rein on the madness, letting everything totter without ever falling. The result is joyous. DollyWould is a chaotic carnival of booze, boobs and balloons, of wigs and heels, sheep’s tails and sequins; a show that doesn’t just throw in the kitchen sink, it spray paints it in glitter and ties on some bells. Like Dolly herself, it hides brains and guts beneath glitzy excess – you have to think she would approve.
DollyWould is at The Old Market, Brighton, until May 25th. For more details, click here.