theSpace at Surgeon’s Hall – Grand Theatre
When Dolly the sheep was born it was a major scientific event. The first mammal to be cloned from adult cells, her existence signalled a step-change in our relationship with cell biology and – in many ways – life itself. So far at the Fringe, I’ve endured some performances that perhaps weren’t aimed at me. Not this: as a biochemist, I’m looking forward to getting into the world of oocytes, induced pluripotent stem cells and blastocysts.
The star of the show is Dolly herself. Well, not really. Dolly is actually one street over in the National Museum of Scotland. She’s also dead. And a sheep. No, the real star of the show is Jessica Donnelly, who plays both the eponymous clone and narrator to this production. Donnelly absolutely steals the show, providing moments of humour and immediately engaging the audience with her warmth. She also keeps the science clear and accessible (this scientist can confirm that Hiya Dolly! does a rare thing: gets most of its science right!), which is not easy when you’re trying to explain somatic nuclear transfer. Dolly also leads many of the musical numbers which are haphazardly dotted around the play in an attempt to jazz things up. They’re reasonably enjoyable riffs on popular music, with topical lyric changes (“I would clone 500 sheep, and I would clone 500 more…”).
Aside from Dolly, though, there isn’t much to separate this piece from the flock. The central narrative is reasonably interesting, but largely devoid of any stakes or tension. It doesn’t help that other performances from the cast range from one-dimensional to caricature, with the exception of John Fagan who delivers a solid, believable turn as Keith Campbell. The play also contains a plodding, banal relationship between two lab technicians, which could have been excised in sympathy for the audience. The script is guilty of not drawing the story to a close at its natural finale, but rather dragging the ending out beyond what is necessary. Worse though, the dialogue in the final sections feels as if it is still on the storyboard – it’s as though the writer has had a last-minute panic to include themes. In particular, a scene which takes place in the afterlife had me begging for the play to itself expire.
The real Dolly died in 2003, but she is wonderfully reanimated in this production. Sadly, whilst Donnelly does much to keep this production alive, it only entertained in fits and starts. Despite strong attention to detail on the scientific front, not enough work has gone into making this an engaging addition to Fringe theatre.
Written by: Vince LiCata
Directed & Produced by: Andy Jordan
Music Direction by: Ciaran McGhee
Designed by: Robbie McDonnell
Hiya Dolly! plays at EdFringe 2022 until 27 August. Further information and bookings here.