Life in Plastic, it’s Fantastic!: by Tamantha Elliot & Nikita Bennett
Every night, children across the world say goodnight to their toys. With a kiss on the forehead of a doll and a last hug for a teddy bear, lights go out and children sleep. But what happens once the child is asleep and their eyes no longer on their favourite toy?
Toy Story has already tried to tell us what Barbie does when you’re not looking. However, Brisbane based group, Babushka, has taken a new twist on the adventures of your favourite childhood dolls. Their darkly comedic cabaret, Doll is ‘#notforkids’. The show draws from opera, 80s pop, nursery rhymes, and rock’n’roll to present a doll’s-eye-view of the world.
As the cast drove into town for their one night only performance on September 17, we caught up with some of the show’s cast and creators, Alicia Cush, Bethan Ellsmore, and Luke Volker.
What is the show about?
B: On the surface, it’s about dolls and exploring the nostalgia and sentimentality of that. But it is very much a comedic and musical examination of what its life to be a woman now, what was modelled for us growing up opposed to what it’s like now. We explore, through comedy, a lot of feminist issues. The role of mothers, things like slut-shaming, things like women having to find a partner to be complete.
A: Find their Ken
B: Find their Ken, Barbie has to find her Ken. With a little bit of doll, trivia sprinkled throughout. I learnt a lot about Barbie throughout this, more than I wish I knew.
What was your inspiration for the show? Why dolls?
A: This show, as an idea, popped into my head about four years ago. We had written a couple of shows together that had had themes, one show was about secrets, one was about murder ballads. Then this one, I just woke up one night and it was like a little light bulb went ‘dolls! You have to do a show about dolls!’… I think we look for ideas that what will translate well to the theatre, things that an audience would want to come and see, like the strong sentimentality and attachment people have to dolls growing up.
B: As we worked shopped it over time the ideas and the absurdity of being women, and our lives being so dictated by how we look and our perceptions on how we look and how that affects our relationships which each other. A lot of ideas came from these very animated discussions about what we could use dolls to say about life as a woman in 2016.
What can you tell us about the cast and characters in the show?
A: Judy, Bethan, and myself are vocal performers and we sort of have these three distinct doll characters in the show.
B: We kind of thought ‘if we were going to make a doll based on us, what would that doll be like?’ and then that’s how these characters came about.
A: Judy Hainsworth is like a princess Barbie, modelled on any number of princess Barbies you can imagine. Then Bethan is sort of party dolly.
B: Trash Barbie
A: Yeah, Trash Barbie. Kind of like a Bratz doll.
B: She’s had nine previous owners, spent time in St Vinnies, and a bargain bin, and a garden shed. She’s been around. She’s done it all.
A: My doll is based on a Barbie I loved growing up which was Day to Night Barbie. She was an office worker by day in a velvet suit, then she would flip her skirt around at night time and it becomes a big taffeta skirt. She’d have a glittery pink body suit underneath and she’d be ready to go partying by night. She had it all, she could do anything. My Barbie is modelled on that with a bit more of a mother theme, trying to have it all. Then Luke, of course, our wonderful piano player and resident Ken.
What would you say is your favourite part of the show?
L: Being able to take an 80s rock anthem and turn it into an operatic grand moment, it’s kind of thrilling.
B: That is one of my favourite parts, but I think one of my favourite parts is Alicia singing a Barock inspired aria about kale
A: I really love singing Queen’s song, You’re my Best Friend. The thought that your doll is your very first BFF.
What do you hope that your audiences will get out of Doll?
B: I hope they get a big belly laugh and I hope that they take away how absurd the expectations are for women for live up to – to stop caring so much and to love themselves and want to listen to more cabaret.
A: Laugh at us, laugh at themselves. Remember some dolls, have a bit of a reminiscent journey, and think about women and their role in society a little differently.
B: And maybe think a little bit about how they think about women. How they judge other women in their lives and judge themselves.
How do you choose your music for you shows?
B: Usually the idea comes first, then we do a big brainstorm and think of all the songs that remind us of dolls, could tell a story about dolls, have ‘doll’ in the title. Then we think about little ideas, like ‘dolls and their children go through a lot, they survive through a lot. Let’s sing Survivor by Destiny’s Child’. We had so much to choose from, we really had to whittle it down. Then it also depends on whether or not we are inspired to arrange the songs, we don’t just sing the songs. We change and arrange them, we call it Babushka-ifying.
A: Then sometimes we just choose a song because we like it and we make it fit.
What drew you to the cabaret style?
B: We met at university studying opera, essentially we felt claustrophobic having to do that one style, there were so many other things we wanted to do. We felt like we needed to do something that allowed us to be creative. Not just skilful and artistic, but really creative. Cabaret came in a bit of a process, we decided that we wanted to sing all these different songs and put them in a show, then we realised after that we were a cabaret group. Cabaret allows us to sing an Offenbach aria one minute and Guns ‘n’ Roses the next.
What is your favourite show you’ve performed in?
A: We recently finished a show called Il Ritorno, it was by an Australian circus company, Circa. We got to sing really legitimate opera and work with world class acrobatics doing crazy stuff around us. That was really fulfilling work and experience.
B: Babushka did a show called Dead! – which is the murder ballad show. It’s a comedy and the premise is a bit like ‘you’re dead, but welcome! We’re going to have a party.” It was just so much fun. We made someone eat cold spaghetti our of a can, we read passive aggressive eulogies of each other. It was just really well received, people just laughed and laughed and laughed.
L: The most fun I’ve had was music directing the Hogwart’s choir for Universal Studios in Japan. It was just the craziest gig and so much fun working with frog puppets.
What is your dream role?
A: Singing exactly what I want to be singing. It’s my dream to sing a crazy mix of styles, I couldn’t wish for anything more. I’d get bored singing just one role.
B: Babushka is my favourite role, my ultimate
L: My dream is to be conducting on Broadway, as a performer put me in a Sondheim show and I’ll be happy.
Finally, what was your favourite doll as a child?
A: I had this little ragdoll that I got when I was born. She had a flower bonnet and she was made of cloth and her name was Piab. She was the love of my life for a long time and now my daughter goes to sleep with her.
B: I never played with dolls as a kid. There was one thing, I didn’t play with them just I carried them around with me, Polly Pockets. I was just fascinated by the ‘miniaturness’.
L: I had a Snow White Barbie when I was little. I decided that she really need to have a bath one night and her hair just became mattered and she’s never the same.
Author Bio: “My name is Tamantha Elliot – freelance arts and entertainment journalist and urban fantasy writer. I am also a full time nerd, theatre-goer, lover of literature, music listener, somewhat terrible gamer, television watcher, and (very) amateur artist. You can find me on my blog at: https://thesame26letters.
Author Bio: “My name is Nikita Bennett, I am a freelance journalist with a unique look at the world. I have an interest in writing about policies, politics and travel. A nerd with a love of travelling, gaming, computers, and most importantly my dog.”