Writer and Director: Lucy Bird
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
By many measures, Kate is successful. She holds her own in an extremely competitive male-dominated office, doing her best to fit in, working long hours and swearing like a trooper – she’s even Johnno’s Best Man. But Kate is also socially inept and lonely; she might have it all professionally, but personally, her life is lacking something, hence her guilty pleasure – watching RomComs on DVD alone in her flat. Dave in HR tries to help – he mentors her and tries to remove the prickles in her attitude that are blocking promotion prospects; he even buys her a self-help book. But when you can’t love yourself, how can you expect that special someone to love you?
When she awakes, hungover, in the office after Johnno’s engagement party, she finds the guys have played a cruel joke. They have given her a blow-up boyfriend – a lifesize plastic inflatable doll. With no-one she feels she can be herself with, be vulnerable with, the doll becomes her confessor. Then, remarkably, it comes to life, apparently with a mission to help Kate confront her demons. It finds her cache of RomComs from which it learns all it needs to know about romance in the modern world. But just how far can you go in a relationship with something made of plastic and air? And will the fragile bubble of Kate’s emerging self-esteem be pricked?
Me and My Doll has been a beneficiary of the Old Joint Stock Open Doors project that seeks to support local theatremakers, and it forms a fine testimonial to that programme. It’s also part of the Old Joint Stock’s response to Women’s History Month, in which it is programming pieces with women in the creative driving seat. While all this might sound terribly worthy, in fact, Me and My Doll is entertaining and funny whilst simultaneously posing hard questions about why we behave as we do. Paperback Theatre, the young company behind Me and My Doll says that its mission is to create entertaining and provocative work; Me and My Doll succeeds in that aspiration.
Writer and director, Lucy Bird, has crafted a tight 80 minutes of comedy and drama in which the concept of a doll coming to life seems totally natural. One question that is inevitably begged is the extent to which the doll’s animation is a figment of Kate’s imagination and Bird has sensibly ensured that that question remains ambiguous and unanswered. Rachel Baker brings us Kate, full of bluster with a hard carapace but one that, like the shell of an egg, is easily cracked. Baker has the most mobile face so that Kate’s emotions are always on show – to us at any rate – and her physicality, for example, when demonstrating her dad-dancing ‘skills’, is a joy to watch. Thomas Bulpett brings us the doll with plenty of confusion about how he should act and react to Kate based on his RomCom education and background as a, well, doll. He also brings the doll to physical life in his awkward movements, although that is hard to maintain in every situation the doll finds itself in.
Overall, a highly entertaining piece that can be enjoyed on several levels and that will undoubtedly generate discussion after the curtain falls. A fine piece of fringe theatre that deserves to be seen and enjoyed.
Runs Until 2 March 2018 | Image: Neil Reading