This new play by Lucy Bird at Paperback Theatre is about to play live at Assembly Festival Garden in Coventry, but I am watching a digital version made at the Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton. Billed as a “subversive, feminist comedy”, this is not your usual rom-com.
In Me & My Doll single lady and workaholic Kate is gifted a blow-up doll who becomes her close companion in this quirky and original play. It may start in Shirley Valentine mode (remember her discussions with the wall?) but quickly becomes something else.
A study in openness and vulnerability, this 70 minute play benefits from a strong construction of text and plot as Kate explores who she really is. Utilising snatches of music between and during scenes which comment on the action, this keeps you watching. It might be useful to having a passing knowledge of rom coms, but it isn’t essential.
Bird herself plays Kate, bringing to life a character who masks loneliness with sweary jokes and aggression. She seems to be OK, but in the office she is disrespected and disregarded, pushed away from a promotion and mocked for not bringing a plus 1 to a friend’s wedding. At home, she hides her rom-com DVDs so people won’t think she likes them.
With just the voice of ‘Dave in HR’ and the doll itself, who gains a personality of his own as the show progresses, this is a piece which is basically a performer-led monologue in its early stages, but quickly becomes something very different as Kate and her doll develop a very curious dynamic.
As Kate confides in her ‘blow-up boyfriend’, opening up to this strange new friend, we start to sense who the woman is behind the facade. She’s only ever been asked out as a joke, in her schooldays. Drinking, alone on the sofa, this gifted doll might just be her soulmate, especially once he comes to life, like Pinocchio became a real boy.
When the doll (played brilliantly by George Attwell Gerhards, all stutters and awkwardness) tries out romantic tricks he has seen from those films, it always goes wrong in the most hilarious way. Is this all in Kate’s mind because she can’t sleep and hates her job, or is it a playful fantasy just like the ones she escapes into on screen?
Me & My Doll is sweet, funny, tense and ugly, as complex as any normal relationship. Neil Reading’s editing for screen may leave a few too many long shots, but generally allows the piece to breathe without an audience. Recommended.
Me & My Doll can be seen on stage in Coventry from 29-31 July with the same cast – book here. There is also a live show and livestream from Newcastle Fringe on the 27 July – book here for either version.
My thanks to Lucy Bird for allowing me access to this digital version of the play.