What The Dolls Saw gives an hour of impressively chilling comedy at the London Horror Festival at the Pleasance Theatre, whilst He’s Behind You! The Slasher Panto feels like an experiment that hasn’t quite paid off
“I think I only eat quiche at funerals”
There can’t be anyone who isn’t at least slightly creeped out by dolls, surely. And that’s kind of what Nic Lamont is relying upon for her new play What the Dolls Saw, playing the Pleasance as part of the London Horror Festival. Drawing on fairytales, stories around the campfire, shadow puppetry and the world’s interest in true crime, she’s fashioned an hour of effectively chilling comedy.
Three wildly different sisters are brought back together to their family home by the death of their father, a renowned dollmaker. Their mother, a former child star with a dead twin (this is a horror show after all…), is naturally behaving a bit oddly but of more significance to the siblings, is the opportunity to delve into the secrets and traumas they each have buried, turning this reunion into a reckoning with chilling ramifications galore.
Though Lisa Millar’s production has its fair share of shocks and scares through some some brilliant lighting choices and Odinn Orn Hilmarsson’s skincrawling sound design, Lamont’s writing really packs a punch because there’s a serious story here too about sisterly bonds and bucking stereotypes. All three sisters have backstories that fascinate and draw you in, the ‘damage’ they carry making them all candidates for their own show. Throw in some pitch-perfect casting – Sasha Wilson (cape-swirlingly excellent in Call Me Fury), Holly Morgan (one of my highlights from the VAULT Festival this year) and Lambert herself, and we’re talking some serious quality here.
Add in Rosy Fordham’s deliciously demented Rose and her tap routines, and Rebecca O’Brien as the rather more curious figure of the mute Belle and the scene is set for a ghost story that is highly entertaining, as well as incrementally really quite creepy indeed. Witty and weird and eminently watchable. I also caught He’s Behind You! The Slasher Panto, which I found rather less successful, even while appreciating its commitment to showcasing all kinds of drag – “this is gender-fucked up” as someone notes.
Co-opting the tropes of pantomime for Hallowe’en, writer and director Reece Connolly hits the mark in some ways, but misses it in too many others. There’s an almost Into the Woods vibe as a collection of fairytale princesses (Rapunzel, Cinderella, Snow White etc) decide to have a party, little realising there’s a murderer in their midst who has started with poor Daisy the Cow.
Chaos then ensues as an accomplished set of performers (Carrot and Oedipussi Rex were my standouts) do battle with punishing acoustics (I struggled to hear even from the third row) a script that felt a little more concerned with shoehorning in up-to-the-minute references that being truly laugh out loud funny, and a lack of certainty (and consistency) about whether this is a scripted show at heart, or an interactive drag cabaret (at which only the boldest of souls should ever sit on the front row).
Running time: What the Dolls Saw 60 minutes (without interval) / He’s Behind You 70 minutes (without interval)
Photos: What The Dolls Saw – P.Fysh Photography
What the Dolls Saw is booking until 20th October and He’s Behind You is booking until 18th October as part of the London Horror Festival at the Pleasance Theatre