Dolly, the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell, was named after Dolly Parton, the country singer, who has a theme park in America, which is near the University of Tennessee's Forensic Anthropology Center, which is sometimes known as a 'body farm'. Written down, the links between these things feel tenuous, but in Sh!t Theatre's DollyWould, they intermingle in a joyful and chaotic exploration of celebrity, fandom, duplication, preservation and decay.
When she was born, in 1996, Dolly the sheep had a white face, which indicated that she was indeed a clone (otherwise she would have had a black face like her surrogate mother). The research that produced her, at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh, was exploring ways to introduce new genes into an animal. Already by the 1980s, scientists could do this in mice by manipulating embryonic stem cells, but such cells from larger mammals were not available, so cloning was a potential alternative for enhancing livestock. Today, genome editing tools like Crispr/Cas can be used much more easily to the same effect.
Dolly the sheep was cloned from two cells: one was an egg cell, the other an adult sheep's mammary gland cell. Mammary glands produce milk, whether in ovine udders or human breasts, and this, rather than any similarity between their hair, was why she was named after Dolly Parton. Essential to human life - all mammalian life, in fact - as well as to the Parton story, breasts are an integral part of this show. Through playing clips from media interviews over the years, DollyWould notes that Parton has endured much curiosity about her body, especially her breasts (are they natural or enhanced?), her weight and her sexuality.
Dolly the sheep died in 2003. Juxtaposing the Dollys' stories with the body farm focuses attention on death, decay and whatever comes after. As for this show and what may come after, Sh!t Theatre seem intent on following Parton's own definition of success: 'Make 'em laugh, make 'em cry, scare 'em a little bit and then leave'.
- Michael Regnier
Links relevant to this diagnosis:
The Life of Dolly - Roslin Institute
Towards Dolly: Edinburgh, Roslin and the Birth of Modern Genetics - Edinburgh University Library Centre for Research Collections
What is Gene-Editing and How Does It Work? - Royal Society
This Is What Happens When You Die - Mosaic
The Body Farm - Atlas Obscura