I cannot say I am a super fan of real-life murder investigations, but every so often I do listen to a few factual crime podcasts and I have a slight fascination for investigative journalism and for people trying to find a solution to mysteries that can be decades old. So, when I saw the poster at the Vault Festival about a dark comedy, a cold case and a mystery podcast I was intrigued and got myself a ticket.
What the Dolls Saw is an all-female dark comedy presented by House of Macabre, penned by Nic Lamont, directed by Lisa Millar, performed as part of the Vault Festival and starring Holly Morgan (as Christine), Nic Lamont (as Megan), Rosy Fordham (as Rose), Sasha Wilson (as Zara) and Rebecca O’Brien (as Belle).
Rose is an ageing actress with a penchant for Shakespeare, reminiscent of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, whose husband, a world-renowned doll maker, has just died. The play starts with all the daughters coming back home for the funeral: Megan is an author of some rather dark books for children and is pregnant; Zara is a bit of a hippie character, she likes drugs and alcohol and she has just adopted a mute young lady as her ward; Christine is Rose’s lesbian stepdaughter, and she does investigative podcasts, with a particular interest for cold cases. While the death of the father is not suspicious, Christine wants to investigate the disappearance of Rose’s twin sister in 1993 and she convinces the other stepsisters to help her with the podcast and the investigation.
Clearly, I do not want to spoil what happens next, let’s just say it involves a lot of slightly creepy ceramic dolls, some mentally unbalanced characters, very dark topics but also a fair amount of laughter, the compulsory twist and even some musical and dance numbers, all packed in a one-hour long show.
The plotline also involves shadow puppetry by O’Brien that is very evocative in the dark and intimate atmosphere of the Pit venue at the Vaults. While the story is not hugely original, I really enjoyed the podcast style, the range of quirky characters and the clever mix of investigation and comedic moments. The dialogues are very well written and there is enough depth in the characters to make them believable and even relatable in some instances.
I particularly appreciated the performance of Fordham as the mother, she manages to deliver the gravitas of a Shakespearian character, the glamour of a 50s diva and the silliness of a mother that still likes to sing and dance with her reluctant daughters.
I was slightly disappointed by the abrupt ending, possibly cut short to fit within the hour slot or maybe just left a bit suspended to let the audience work out the rest, I think it would not harm having an extra 15 minutes to properly conclude the story. However, I enjoyed the performance and will be looking forward to future productions by House of Macabre and by Nic Lamont, that has the uncanny ability to deliver some very funny lines well-woven into an intriguing plotline.
Review by Fabio Ghiotto
Three sisters travel home for the funeral of their father, who happens to be the world’s greatest Dollmaker. With their mother on the edge of sanity, and an unsolved case haunting the family, the sisters must unearth dark secrets to find out: what did the dolls see?
A delight for fans of true crime with a plot that unravels like a mystery podcast. This a play about sisterhood, and the pressure upon women to fit into the perfect china mould. Not recommended for those with a phobia of dolls… or a fear of feminism.
Written by Nic Lamont who has penned dark comedy for BBC3 and BBC Radio 4.
The House of Macabre are productions created by Adam Rhys-Davies and Nic Lamont, the writer/performers behind comedy duo The Twins Macabre.
What the Dolls Saw
5 – 9 Feb 2020