Gross-out Dolly Horror [by James Wenley]
Thomas Sainsbury and Yvette Parsons’s previous work together typically tend to features unsavory oddballs, extracting comedy from social awkwardness and character eccentricities. This style is once again at play in Dolly Mixture in which the premise sees Crispin Merriweather (Sainsbury) boarding at the residence of Beverly Beavington (Parsons) who restores dolls as her hobby. But Beavington has a larger restoration project in mind. While Mixture is billed as a ‘horror comedy’, here the comedy is only a brief respite to the tension, horror and truly gross-out moments. Dolly Mixture is arguably Sainsbury’s and Parson’s sickness work yet, experimenting with how much they can get away with.
Beverly Beavington’s world is a mix of olive floral patterns, kitsch, the gothic, and faded glory: her living room’s centerpiece is a shelf filled with curious looking dolls in various states of disrepair which stare out directly to the audience and manage to look genuinely creepy. The dolls aside, the play’s aesthetic creates a palpable feeling of unease. Little things just aren’t right: Sainsbury’s bold purple suit is ill-fitting, and he keeps his backpack on the entire time, never comfortable. Parsons’s Beavington is unnerving: smudged lipstick, rotting teeth and black eye contacts which make her look uncannily like one of her own Dolls.
Sainsbury’s Merriweather is the support character, a wet-fish which Sainsbury plays with a constantly pained look about him. The character is mainly a cipher to Parson’s creation of the deliciously repulsive Beavington who glides cooly across the stage but turns into a frightening monster during short tantrums. It is the unpredictability of Parsons’s performance that dominates our attention. The first act of the play is a tense-two hander between the pair as they reveal their backstories and personal tragedies – Merriweather is an orphan, Beavington lost her daughter. We take our laughs when we can, enjoying their weirdness, but we remain on edge – we know things are not right, not as they seem, and dread to think what Beavington’s, or indeed Merriweather’s real agenda is.
With the atmosphere of horror established, the second half of the play is an endurance test for the audience as the play pushes into the sicker material. Sarah Houbolt joins the proceedings and adds her circus skills to the mix to create some truly surprising moments of the ‘can’t-believe-this-is-happening’ type (I will not spoil here). Houbolt’s character is nasty, and she adds a terrific physically gung-ho performance which adds a new energy to the mix. Dolly Mixture gets repeated reactions from the audience by exploring the Horror trope of abjection with some taboo bodily fluids. A scene between Sainsbury and a bucket, and an erotic dance with fans by Parsons, will likely be one of the most-talked about scenes of this Fringe.
Mixture is not for the faint-of heart, and I would be pushed to say that it was enjoyable. What it does do is get its audience reacting, and reacting in a big way. It’s sick, twisted, gross, and just what this Fringe needs.
Dolly Mixture plays at The Basement as part of Auckland Fringe until Sat 23rd Feb. More details see Auckland Fringe.