In this review from The London Horror Festival, Sam settled in for a night at The Pleasance to see the latest addition to the House of Macabre repertoire: Nic Lamont’s What the Dolls Saw.
A funeral. A recently deceased father. And a half dozen lifeless dolls watching us from far upstage.
“Welcome to the family.”
We open with Lamont (donning both actor and writer hats) and a fearful fairy tale about a doll named ‘Little’ that’ll continue to crop-up throughout, creepily connecting strands of the story as it gradually unfolds.
Add Sasha Wilson as the drug-taking Zara, Rosy Fordham as the mother you’d never want to have, Rebecca O’Brien as the ever-silent Belle, Holly Morgan as the podcast-producing half-sister and you have a family with more secrets than the Addams’ have terrifying children. (That’s right. More than three).
The three sisters (nothing to do with Chekhov) reconvene at their father’s funeral, only to start questioning the true nature behind their Aunt Lily’s mysterious disappearance all those years ago…
Lisa Millar’s production oozes with cleverly creepy design, clearly created by those who know how to make an audience want to look away and yet keep their eyes glued to the stage.
Shelves dotted with demonic-looking dolls slide across the stage to slip from setting to setting, as Rebecca O’Brien joined forces with theatre company Knuckle and Joint to bookmark scenes with fairy tale puppetry reminiscent of The Deathly Hallows (in all the right ways).
The eeriest addition to the production design was definitely Óðinn Örn Hilmarsson’s sound composition, which plinked and plonked in my brain like a music box having a nightmare long after I’d left the theatre.
Lamont’s script drives forward at the perfect pace, with a fantastic twist (or two!) to wrap it all up at the end, but the relationship between the three sisters lacked conflict.
Each character had a very clear bone to pick with their late-father (now neatly nesting in an urn) and the unsolved crimes he left behind but there was little in the ways of inter-personal clashes that spurned characters on to act, which then reduced the impact of this otherwise shockingly horrifying resolution.
In fact, the script had me at some moments but lost me at others.
On the one hand, the meta moments that broke the fourth wall seemed to sacrifice the rules of the play for easy laughs but, on the other hand, Lamont’s use of Christine’s podcasts both for creating tension and pushing the plot forwards was a perfect piece of story-telling.
And while some moments of exposition felt forced, others (there’s one in particular I’m thinking about regarding Megan’s disappearance) are still haunting me now.
Verdict: As its first outing onto the stage, What the Dolls Saw is a classic dark comedy with some cracking lines and a fantastic final twist.
By Sam Essame
The London Horror Festival takes place until the 2nd November at The Pleasance Theatre, and The Old Red Lion Theatre, Islington. Click here for our full preview.