The Dolls of New Albion is billed as a steampunk opera in four acts, written by Paul Shapera and performed by Thistle N’ Thorn Productions. The story is presented by an omniscient narrator, who chronicles the lives of the McAlistair family through the generations and their effect on the city of New Albion. The first act follows Annabelle, who uses her talents to bring back the dead love of her life; these actions have repercussions for both following generations of her family and the city of New Albion itself.
The musical numbers are fast-paced, and some of the cast had difficulty keeping up with the lyrics – while a large number of the songs were sung completely out of tune. The accompanying music was also far too loud: it seemed distorted on occasions, and literally hurt the ears. The narrator, ironically one of the better singers, was often drowned out, making it impossible to understand what was going on.
It would have been much better if the cast had worn microphones, so that their voices could be balanced with the music and weren't competing to be heard. It would also have helped the performers, who ended up practically shouting half of the lyrics.
One of the more interesting elements of steampunk is the costumes, and the general style of the world and everything in it; I was really hoping that this production would play around with that to deliver something exciting. But it didn’t; it was generic through and through. The base costumes are shirts and trousers in greys and greens, which are perfectly serviceable, and when a cast member is playing one of the leads they change their costume so that they stand out from the chorus. Unfortunately, this usually just means putting on a jacket or a skirt; the only hint of something vaguely steampunk was the design of cogs on the ‘doll’ Jasper, but they are covered up for most of the show.
There is real potential in the underlying opera. The music is good and the lyrics, when I could make them out, were kind-of cool. But this particular production was let down by poor singing, dodgy sound levels, and uninteresting staging.