Rag and Bone’s The Doll’s House makes excellent use of a Brechtian staging that works extremely well as a children’s show but could very easily be adapted into a fantastic horror show.

A small collection of dolls owned by two little girls live in a shoebox, longing for a proper dollhouse. When the girls inherit one from their great-aunt, the dolls’ joy is short-lived when they realize they must now contend with the great-aunt’s old (and evil) doll who has come with the house.

dolls_house_1_j_nolan
Photograph courtesy of Rag and Bone Theatre

Rag and Bone take a detached approach to staging: a table sits at centre, on which the dolls (and eventually the dollhouse) sit. Performers John Nolan and Kathy MacLellan change in and out of character as the dolls and their human owners as easily as changing hats. Each will pick up whichever doll they happen to be playing at that moment (or dons a hat that mimics that particular doll’s appearance) as a simple signifier, using mostly facial expressions and mannerisms to play the character in a minimalistic way. Since the dolls are rather small and the dollhouse’s interior is also hard to see from the seats, a camera captures the doll’s faces and the interior of the house to a screen to the side. No effort is made to create/maintain any kind of dramatic illusion – this is the real deal, and Nolan and MacLellan engage the audience in the story despite switching characters and holding up the camera for all to see. All the while, an excellent usage of dramatic score is provided by Russell Levia on the keyboard and guitar, and chimes.

The mastery of the Brechtian technique is used by Rag and Bone for TYA purposes, though this show would also work equally well in a more mature version that capitalizes on the horror possibilities of the story: for one, the evil doll Marchpane’s empty glass eyes are prime nightmare fuel (especially when the camera zooms in on her face). The performers’ exaggerated facial expressions (particularly Nolan’s) when they take on the character of one of the dolls would be an excellent vehicle for expressing pain, anguish, dread, and the like. There’s already one gruesome doll death, so why not more?

Marchpane
Terrifying or beautiful? You decide. Pictured: Marchpane; Photograph courtesy of Rag and Bone Theatre

Taking the show at face value (rather than reading too far into alternate possibilities), The Doll’s House is a darker children’s show that explores complex themes. The little girls’ whims that destroy the happy comfort of the dolls’ world suggest an critical analog of religion: even well-meaning masters can make decisions that adversely affect those they are supposed to care for. Marchpane’s entrance as a beautiful but evil doll imparts the more simplistic lesson that appearances can be deceiving, but offers the further moral that you must recognize evil when you see it and cast it out when you get the opportunity. Brecht may not have had this kind of show in mind when pioneering the field of epic theatre, but it follows the basic tenets of that theatrical mode to a T and is an entertaining and engrossing tale to boot.

The Doll’s House

A Rag and Bone Puppet Theatre production

Written and Performed by John Nolan and Kathy MacLellan

Based on the novel by Rumer Godden

Musical Performance by Russell Levia

At Academic Hall (Venue 2)

Running Time: approx. 50 minutes

Wednesday 14 June 7:00pm

Friday 16 June 6:00pm

Saturday 17 June 3:30pm

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