The Dolls of New Albion

Paul Shapera’s steampunk opera The Dolls of New Albion is a macabre four acts featuring four generations in a small town where the dead can come back to life as human-sized, unworldly dolls. The concept is clearly not going to appeal to everyone, but even for fans of the grisly content, Thistle N’ Thorn’s new production simply lacks the strength to engage for the full 75 minutes.

The epic nature of the story and musical soundscapes are simply not matched by the performances, and this made The Dolls of New Albion, ultimately, a little disappointing.

The musical is sung-through, featuring a narrator to link together the four acts and explain more complex plot points. However, I missed at least half of the lyrics from my seat in the second row. Microphones would have helped, as would altered sound levels, but ultimately Johanna Spencer’s narrator and most of the other actors lack the voices and diction to be clearly heard. With this in mind, and the repetitive music style not helping, I was entirely lost by two-thirds of the way through and only by looking up the plot later can I be sure exactly what happened at the end of the show.

Staging the show in the round also may not have helped. The director seems to have paid scant attention to this in the blocking, with group scenes often featuring circles of awkwardly placed actors facing inwards and with singing directed at each other or the floor. The use of the stage space was often poor, and the actors frequently seemed unsure of where to look next and a little overwhelmed by the audience on all sides. A group dance number, in particular, felt uncoordinated and awkward.

That said, there were a few stand-out performances. Amy Barclay as the mad scientist Annabella could hold a tune well and, while the part was very much out of his singing range, the tragic doll Jasper managed to imbue a coldness and honesty in his eyes that made me genuinely care for his plight.

If you have come to see a new steampunk opera and that is all you expect you might well find this an engaging enough show. For me, the epic nature of the story and musical soundscapes are simply not matched by the performances, and this made The Dolls of New Albion, ultimately, a little disappointing.

Reviews by Elliot Douglas

SpaceTriplex

X The Musical

★★★
theSpace @ Surgeons Hall

2016 the Musical

★★
theSpace on North Bridge

Woolf

★★★★
theSpace on Niddry St

The Dolls of New Albion

★★
Assembly Rooms

Gypsy Queen

★★★★★
C venues – C royale

Submission

★★★★★

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

A desperate inventor. A dead man walking. A family disgraced. A city in ruin. Join us in telling the tale of Annabel McAlistair, a mad scientist hell-bent on bringing the love of her life back from the dead by binding his soul into the body of a life-sized clockwork doll. This steampunk opera by Paul Shapera explores how the people of New Albion adjust to the dead walking among them, and how one woman’s actions affect the city of New Albion for generations to come.

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