Dolly Would by Alison Carr

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BBC Radio 4 Afternoon Play

BBC Radio 4, 4 January 2012
Kenny Rogers impersonator Martin (Lee Ross), meets Denize (Sharon Percy), a girl from the north-east of England with apparent ambition to go on the stage, and persuades her to become Dolly Parton. The two of them begin to tour together, until it soon becomes clear that Denize is a far more talented performer in her own right. Thereafter she tours on her own with Martin becoming her manager.
Although Denize/ Dolly enjoys a successful life, she feels that her true identity as a north-easterner has been taken over by her role; and that Martin has actively encouraged it. His desire for financial success has transformed her into FrankenDolly, as she puts it. During one gig she tries to sing a song of her own, but the audience boo her off the stage.
The action shifts to the United States, as Denize makes every effort to escape from her stage role, while we discover that Martin's true yearning is not to impersonate Kenny Rogers, but to play Dolly Parton himself. Eventually he achieves his wish, as he forges a stage career as a transvestite Dolly, with Denize acting as his manager. The two of them eventually get married, and have a daughter called Jolene.
Alison Carr's play focused on the relationship between public and private selves, and how the desire to sustain a public image often led to the suppression of one's true nature. Denize could only perform Dolly Parton's songs on stage, even though she wrote her own material; while Martin had to conform to what he perceived as established gender conventions and play Kenny Rogers. At the end, however, they discovered true love; but only when they had the courage to act according to their instincts rather than to let their circumstances dominate them.
Sharon Percy gave a vocally adept performance as Denize/ Dolly, switching easily between Geordie and Deep Southern American. The speed with which she could accomplish such shifts made us aware of just how much she yearned to be herself. Lee Ross' Martin began the play in dominant mood, as he realized just how much could be made out of Denize's talent; but his character soon changed, as he experienced the emotional pleasure of donning Dolly's clothes. The director of this production that moved swiftly from Great Britain to the United States, was James Robinson.