Babydoll – King’s Head Theatre, London
Screenwriter: Meg Wilson
Directors: Kitty Fox Davis and Meg Wilson
As part of the King’s Head Theater Springboard Festival for emerging artists, Doll compares sex work to the exploitation of workers inherent in startup culture and suggests that the latter may be the most damaging.
Demi Wilson-Smith’s Zeena has moved overseas for a new job as a PA at a feminist startup, but when she arrives she finds she’ll be living in her male boss’ apartment, which doubles as her company office.
To make matters even more awkward, he uses escort services, claiming start-up times are not conducive to more conventional dating schedules, and entertaining the idea of marrying the girl he pays off. ‘era.
One such escort is Billie (Dylan Morris, who also dons an oversized jacket to play Boss) who is “let go” for having the temerity to speak “out of turn”. As a boss, Morris is a fair-weather feminist, willing to suggest that his use of escorts helps women in their social stratum – as long as they know their place.
Billie is another matter. Confident in her sex work but passionate about pursuing a career in fashion design, she finds a friend in Zeena who slowly, charmingly and believable blossoms into romance.
Zeena’s struggle to come to terms with Billie’s sex work is central to the play. Wilson-Smith and Morris come together well, and Meg Wilson’s elegantly constructed screenplay refuses to let them down well-worn paths of praising or condemning Billie’s work.
Instead, Zeena’s willingness to challenge her girlfriend’s income stream contrasts with her unwillingness to do the same with her own professional life, with Boss dragging her into an overworked and underpaid role. Despite this, Wilson-Smith’s character never quite matches Morris’ in terms of written depth, and this is reflected in each actor’s ability to extract the best emotional beats from Wilson’s script.
Yet an hour spent in the company of these characters and actors is time well spent. The play’s conclusion is a bit superficial, but it feels like a rare slip into an otherwise assured grip (Wilson sharing directing credit with Kitty Fox Davis). Doll is an assured and enjoyable piece, and which truly deserves to be a springboard for its creators towards ever greater things.
Until April 9, 2022