views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Doll Face
The Hen and Chickens
3rd August 2018


Publicity photo for Doll Face

Photography provided by the Camden Fringe

Doll Face is an intimate look at life caught between two worlds, as seen through the eyes of a British Indian. Entangled in our clubbing culture, with all its drunkenness and sex, Doll Face (Freida Mann) acutely feels the disappointment, and at times anger, of her parents, who want nothing less than the perfect Indian daughter. Branded a slut by her dad and acutely aware of his expectations and the things that will bring 'shame' on the family, the protagonist has nonetheless spent her youth trying to fit in with her (mostly) white peers. She even used skin-lightening cream once, in an attempt to get closer to the blonde beauty she secretly desired to be. Balancing these two sides isn't easy and the production is not afraid to explore the dark themes that can result.

Not being a British Indian myself, I can't identify personally with the story (though I should probably be careful not to overgeneralise at this point anyway). However, the desire to fit in with friends and the struggle to balance competing expectations is something most people have lived through. I could certainly understand Doll Face being pushed and pulled in different directions from my own experiences at school and university. It is this universal common ground that makes the narrative undoubtedly compelling, moving back and forth between past and present as we find out the experiences that led to her current situation. Mann's acting is a real treat, making the play engaging and relatable, whatever your background.

Performer and writer Mann has an obvious talent for storytelling, both orally and physically. I was particularly impressed by her expressive, dance-like movements, as choreographed by Alex Hinson. Her steps seem to seamlessly blend British club moves with Indian dance, visually representing Doll Face's dual identity. Her dramatic facial expressions, particularly in the eyes, and expressive voice add to the intense experience. I simply couldn't help but be mesmerised by her every action.

I should probably say a word about the clothing and music at this point. Like everything else in the show, these depict a blend of two cultures - from hot pants to sari, from Western pop to Indian song. We even hear two languages throughout the show, with an Indian language (I'm not sure which, I'm afraid) used without translation at certain points. In these moments, such as a memory of a dialogue with her father where his words are in the foreign tongue, you can guess what is being said. Equally, you do feel somewhat removed – almost like you are eavesdropping on something secret. It is a combination which works well.

I suppose my main criticism is that this isn't a bigger production (I know, I know, it's the fringe, I'm being greedy). Although Mann is wonderful on stage by herself, there are some limitations to a one-woman show. I would like to see the story and Doll Face's world expanded, perhaps some additional cast members brought in with Mann still at the centre. I may be getting ahead of myself, but without a doubt, Mann is one to watch in the future.

Doll Face opened on 3rd August and runs until 4th August 2018 at the Hen and Chickens, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Highbury and Islington (Victoria, Overground)

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