Fiona Shepherd finds out why cloning and comedy are the perfect match with Rebecca Biscuit and Louise Mothersole’s DollyWould
Having spent several years cheering up the Fringe with their appealing mix of investigative documentary, harmony singing and homemade props, the non-prophetically named Sh!t Theatre won a Fringe First for their 2016 show, Letters From Windsor House, a witty missive from their own north London block of flats and a wider critique of the housing crisis in London, which now looks remarkably prescient in the light of the Grenfell Tower disaster.
We have ambitions for bigger, greater, shitter things
The Sh!ts, Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit, met at a longform improv group at Queen Mary University of London, bonded in student theatre company Unfinished Theatre then worked down the food chain of flattering company names to found Sh!t Theatre in 2010.
But, after more than a decade as best friends, flatmates, creative partners and finishing each other’s sentences, something had to give and the girls fell out last year. Artistic or personal differences? “Personal” they chorus together.
What, if anything, could repair their friendship? Only a shared love of Dolly Parton. Following a brace of funny shows on serious subjects fuelled by anger, the Sh!ts’ latest Fringe offering comes from a place of rhinestone-encrusted love. DollyWould explores themes of preservation, immortality, cloning and branding through the busty prism of the universally adored country doyenne.
“We’re calling it our B-side prog rock album because it’s all a bit strange and non-linear,” says Biscuit. “The show started off with us talking about semiotics and the idea of cloning, because Dolly the Sheep is named after Dolly. So you get these signifiers of Dolly Parton – tits, rhinestones and blonde hair – and you can put them on anyone and effectively clone Dolly Parton. She has an immortal image now and she can clone herself on and on and on into the future, so we started looking at the difference between that cloned Dolly and the real Dolly.”
“And we’re cloning Dolly so we become weird Dolly creatures ourselves in the show,” says Mothersole. “We do quite a few interpretations of Dolly songs and there’s some opportunities for twisted singalongs.”
In keeping with the immersive research which underpins every Sh!t show, the girls embarked on a field trip to Parton’s Tennessee theme park, Dollywood.
“We were expecting big boob rollercoasters,” says Biscuit, “but actually she has recreated her childhood home and placed it right in the middle of this theme park, complete with a fake graveyard outside for all of her dead family.”
“Dollywood is so much about preservation,” says Mothersole. “Dolly is preserving this old Tennessee tradition, she’s preserving her home, she’s preserving her image and then there’s this antithesis down the road…”
That would be the Tennessee Body Farm in Knoxville – the University of Tennessee’s Anthropological Research Facility – dedicated to the study of the decomposition of human remains, where corpses are left to rot throughout the facility in a variety of environmental conditions. Like Dolly, the centre has a talent for branding and merchandise – Mothersole sports a jaunty Tennessee Body Farm baseball cap.
“So we also tried to get in there,” says Biscuit. “We were chased away by a police officer in an unmarked van,” says Mothersole. “Apparently, they get so many creepy tourists who want to go in, they’ve got a really good bullshit detector.”
Access should be rather more open when they make a pilgrimage to see Dolly the Sheep in the National Museum of Scotland. “We’re thinking of inviting people to meet us and go into together and sing some Dolly songs,” says Biscuit.
While in Edinburgh, Mothersole will also be appearing in another Fringe show, Our Carnal Hearts, a study in envy by performer Rachel Mars, for which Mothersole has composed the music. Music is an integral part of Sh!t Theatre shows and, should budgets ever allow, the girls would love to mount their proposed musical, Evita Too, about Isabel Peron, third wife of Juan Peron who took over the Argentine presidency after his death in 1974.
“The body of Eva Peron disappeared for 15 years after she died,” says Mothersole. “She was found when Peron was back in power and he and Isabel had her preserved body installed overlooking their dinner table, so we want a giant puppet of Evita looming over everything. We’d probably need help making it, because the scale of it would be bigger. We’d want it to look shit, but big and shit.”
“We have ambitions for bigger, greater, shitter things,” agrees Biscuit.
• DollyWould is at Summerhall, until 27 August, 9:15pm. Our Carnal Hearts is at Summerhall, 15-26 August, 11am.