Soho Theatre, London – 14 April 2018
Guest reviewer: Gregory Forrest
Self-proclaimed Sh!t Theatre turns trash into treasure. They’ve been killing fringe circuits over the last few years, and Dollywould is meant to be their ‘mainstream cross-over hit’. Or so they say. The show then takes aim at every kind of ‘mainstream’ taste level imaginable: country music, visual art, physical beauty, cabaret, and theatre. It’s an absolute shitshow and the most fun I’ve had in a theatre in ages.
Attempting to smooth their bickering relationship, performance artists Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit decide to make a show about something they both love. Someone. And an expensive road-trip to the Smoky Mountains seems like the only sensible option.
What results is a wacky reflection on friendship, loss, and replication. Dolly the sheep becomes fertile ground to explore cloning and how tribute acts multiply Parton’s iconic identity. Through lip-syncs, photocopiers, video projections, fabric swings, giant tits, and a whole sequence of orgasmic balloon popping, Dollywould is everything and then some.
As much as the LGBTQ community speaks of intersectionality and embraces camp, it is still rare to see queer women using the form. It speaks to the systematic relegation of female voices within queer culture, and the double oppression that queer women can face from patriarchy and homophobia alike. This is so frustrating because the ironic rejection of taste is something that all those who are being oppressed by norms and values and social expectations are like to do. And queer women have been ‘distasteful’, so to speak, for centuries.
Dollywould then offers a rallying cry for a feminine camp, in that it trashes our expected notions of the feminine and plays about with the pieces. The mess it makes is fabulously funny, and its bitter undertone of preservation and decay gives the performance a biting edge.
One montage of the body-shaming questions posed by Dolly’s interviewers over the years is particularly scary. It reveals how pervasive the male gaze is throughout our cultural history, and hints at how often women use male standards to oppress each other. It is also amazing how the non-sexualised presentation of breasts – affectionately known as ‘mammaries’ – can be quietly political. Dollywould is a big fuck you to the male gaze then, but in a queer turn of events, it fucks with its own idolatry. Treating Dolly as a lesbian icon; sexualising her; satirising her; embodying her. This is the trickiest territory of Dollywould, and I hope Sh!t Theatre will continue to explore their own contradictions with a healthy sense of humour.
Dollywould is a blast of campy queer fun. If you’re knackered with a life of 9 to 5 normality, put some pink on and buy a ticket.