The concept for Dottir, performed by Riot Act, is a great one. The daughters from Shakespeare’s plays are given the chance to have a say, to voice what they are unable to within the plays themselves. Despite the strength of the concept, the writing and the production fail to deliver. Whit Hertford’s play takes the form of a slow series of monologues and some dialogue, where the characters air their distressing stories from the plays, as they try and free themselves from the strange purgatory they find themselves in.
While there are problems with the direction, the main issue is the writing itself. Hertford pulls and grabs at Shakeaspeare, using his grammar (“I care not’), as well as lines taken straight from the plays, or more often, lines are slightly (and painfully) changed. Hertford modernises (Desdemona is killed by Othello’s “ergonomic pillow”), and all the characters relentlessly swear throughout. They are the “crazies, sluts or bitches”. This mix of the old and the new means we never really get a grasp of what kind of world we are in.
The play’s emotional pitch remains constant throughout, switching between desperation to anger – this becomes pretty wearing. There are a few moments of almost-comedy. The first is where the faces of famous actors are projected onto the back wall: the ‘fathers’ who ruined the lives of these women – Simon Russell-Beale’s Lear moodily peers at us. Another is when Kate from The Taming of the Shrew tells one of the other women ‘oh just fuck off’. However, these isolated moments remain not fully explored detours from the overwhelmingly serious tone of the piece.
Unfortunately Dottir doesn’t earn its moments of sincerity. The women’s stories blur into one, as they all try and shock us/gain our sympathy with the same tactics. Lavinia’s monologue at the end should hit us in a way that the others haven’t, but by now, we have nothing more to give, as nothing has been held back from us.
There is one moment that really works. This is the reimagining of Ophelia’s flower speech in Hamlet. In Dottir, she performs the speech (or a version of it) while unlocking each of the women’s handcuffs, as they hang on to her every word – they need her to give them hope. This sets up an interesting dialogue with its context in Hamlet. However, more often than not, Hertford’s play feels like a research display, as each of the women lament their lot but take very little action.
Dottir is playing The Courtyard Theatre until 31 January. For more information and tickets, see The Courtyard Theatre website. Photo by Spencer Trim-West.