The Dolls of New Albion

Aug 16 2017 | By More

★★★★☆    Eager

theSpace on Niddry St (Venue 9): Mon 14 – Sat 19 August 2017
Review by Linus West

A cast which is not just devoted but also talented makes The Dolls of New Albion a pleasure to watch, while elegant scene changes and professional lighting let the musical just flow along.

Thistle N’ Thorn Productions do their best to cover all bases – flaws in the execution are hard to come by.

Amy Barklay plays Annabelle McAlistair. Pic Dolls of New Albion.

Johanna Spencer is the narrator, introducing the steampunk city of New Albion. She’s a confident singer, more than up to the job. Mystically striding about the stage, she runs through a brief history of this strange world, envisaged over the course of a gambling card game.

That is, unfortunately, where the play struggles most – its plot. Playwright Paul Shapera’s script is, in theory, an epic saga but feels rushed. Depicting the rise and fall of four generations in little over an hour requires intimate dialogue, the kind musical theatre just isn’t designed for. As a result, it’s just too easy to lose track of what the hell’s going on.

However, that isn’t the company’s fault. In fact, they do a remarkable job of pulling it off. Their talents for spectacle and epic vocals make the performance a pleasure to watch, even if you’re not following the story itself.

Annabelle McAlistair is portrayed by Amy Barclay, desperately trying to resurrect the body of a boy called Jasper (Fraser Kelsey). The pair fell in love during their time in school, only for his untimely death to bring an end to their relationship.

brilliant voice

She’s an average singer in the group, only because their standard is so very high. Each is just a few steps away from a full-on profession in musical theatre, though some are bit closer than others. Barclay is no exception, with a brilliant voice and easily adequate acting ability.

The Dolls of New Albion cast and crew

By some miracle, Jaspar is resurrected – his soul reincarnated in a mechanical body, through a design devised by Anabelle herself. However, all is not well. It is soon revealed that the boy is suffering incredibly in his new existence, and doesn’t wish to be alive at all. Her heart broken a second time, she reluctantly puts him to rest.

The next three acts follow future generations of the McAlistair family, who discover Annabelle’s secret formula and exploit it for profit. New Albion is turned dystopian, with mechanical dolls wandering the streets.

One of these descendants is played by Thistle N’ Thorn elder statesman, Gordon Horne. He’s a clear standout, equipped with a ridiculously strong voice that just cuts through the music – perfect for the kind of dramatic tale this show is depicting. That’s before we even get to his costume.

Overall, the outfits are a professional job. Be it the metal gears on Jasper’s torso, or Horne’s flaming red blazer and top hat, taken from his own wardrobe. Most of them do the job just fine, while a select few go overkill (in a good way!).

The years go by, and New Albion descends further into darkness. Ruby Leslie takes on Priscilla, a fourth-generation McAliaster condemned to her own form of eternal torment. Her voice is striking, reaching notes and volumes so high it might well give you height-sickness.

It’s actresses like her that have no issue competing with the backing track, which at times is a notch loud. Either they need to find some microphones, or turn the volume down. Their quieter singers suffer as a result, especially when they’re at the far end of the stage.

Kieran Sweeney wraps up the show with a dramatic climax, as Soldier 7285. A booming voice and devilish beard make him perfect for the menacing character, roaming the streets on armoured patrol.

However, that finale fails to reach its full potential, as it is overshadowed by a epic ballad in the very first scene. Satisfying, but that admirable energy would be better spent wisely and built up bit-by-bit.

Dolls of New Albion, while still short of an ideal story, is a wonderful spectacle. The vocals are well above par for a group of this level, given a slick space to perform in through some professional technical design. Everyone here has the potential for a musical career ahead of them.

Running time 1 hour 20 minutes (no interval)
theSpace on Niddry St, Niddry Street, EH1 1TH (Venue 9)
Monday 14 – Saturday 19 August 2017
Evenings: 10.10pm.
Tickets on the #EdFringe Website:

Thistle N’ Thorn Productions on Facebook: @ThistleNThornProductions
Thistle N’ Thorn Productions on Twitter: @ThistleNThornPr


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