The Dolls talk panto and fame

Their comic dou­ble act The Dolls has been a hit on stages through­out Scot­land and be­yond. Now Gayle Telfer Stevens and Louise McCarthy take their gal­lus Glas­gow cleaners onto the big panto stage. By Mark Brown

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - CONTENTS -

WHEN I ar­rive at Glas­gow’s fa­mous Ar­madillo au­di­to­rium to in­ter­view The Dolls (aka Gayle Telfer Stevens and Louise McCarthy), the com­edy duo are al­ready in cos­tume and lark­ing about with the pho­tog­ra­pher. For two peo­ple at their work, they’re hav­ing too much fun.

This will come as no sur­prise to their le­gions of fans. Since The Dolls, Agnes and Sadie (west of Scot­land cleaners with a solid and up­roar­i­ous friend­ship), be­gan their me­te­oric rise in the spring of 2015, they’ve been hav­ing a laugh in front of full houses all over Scot­land, and else­where in the UK.

Now the pair are bring­ing their ri­otous brand of com­edy to the Ar­madillo’s pan­tomime Jack And The Beanstalk, in which they star along­side Greg McHugh’s much-loved cre­ation Gary: Tank Com­man­der. The 3,000-seater au­di­to­rium at the re­branded SEC (Scot­tish Events Cam­pus) is the big­gest panto venue in Scot­land; pre­vi­ous Christ­mas shows have starred such big names as John Bar­row­man, David Has­selfhoff and The Krankies.

For Telfer Stevens (who plays Caitlin McLean in the TV soap River City) and McCarthy (cur­rently ap­pear­ing as DC An­drea McGill in the po­lice spoof Scot Squad) the mega-panto is a won­der­ful and un­ex­pected op­por­tu­nity. “We never thought it would get this big this quickly,” says McCarthy of The Dolls’ suc­cess.

“I never thought be­yond the end of the week,” adds Telfer Stevens. At that, the friends crease up with laugh­ter, which, it must be said, is an in­fec­tiously reg­u­lar oc­cur­rence through­out our in­ter­view.

The Dolls are a fas­ci­nat­ing phe­nom­e­non. Very much ref­er­enc­ing a golden past of Scot­tish mu­sic hall, they are, surely, the most suc­cess­ful Scot­tish, fe­male dou­ble act since Fran and Anna. In­deed, one might think of them as a fe­male equiv­a­lent of Fran­cie and Josie, the glaikit Glaswe­gian char­ac­ters played by the late, great Jack Mil­roy and Rikki Ful­ton.

What, I won­der, ac­counts for the ir­re­sistible rise of The Dolls? “I think we’re at a point now where peo­ple are look­ing for nos­tal­gic things,” McCarthy sug­gests. “Things are re­ally tough for peo­ple just now. Peo­ple are say­ing, ‘Do you re­mem­ber when it used to be good?’, be­cause just now things are pretty crap. I think what Gayle and I do is nos­tal­gic, but with a mod­ern twist.”

“There’s also an el­e­ment of us be­ing a fe­male com­edy duo com­ing out and say­ing, ‘Here we are world! We don’t re­ally know what we are, but we’re here to have a good time’”, adds Telfer Stevens.

Agnes (Telfer Stevens) and Sadie (McCarthy) are, she con­tin­ues, in­flu­enced by “our her­itage and our up­bring­ings, the work­ing-class fam­i­lies we were brought up in”. Telfer Stevens (36) hails from the vil­lage of Ren­ton, in the Vale of Leven, while McCarthy (33) was raised in Mary­hill in north-west Glas­gow.

The suc­cess of their act is, Telfer Stevens be­lieves, down to she and McCarthy in­ad­ver­tently tap­ping into the zeit­geist. “There is,” she says, “noth­ing else like that just now.”

Dolls au­di­ences split, they reckon, about 80/20 women to men, and they are most def­i­nitely up for a good night out. “When women are out to­gether, we’re

worse than men,” says Telfer Stevens. “The be­hav­iour’s off the scale”, she adds, with a laugh.

“We en­cour­age it, I think,” McCarthy chips in. Cue the kind of laugh­ter you’d ex­pect from Glas­gow school­girls when the teacher’s out of the class, or from women fac­tory work­ers when the fore­man’s slipped out for a ci­garette.

If The Dolls’ fan base is over­whelm­ingly fe­male and work­ing­class, it is also cross-gen­er­a­tional. “Our au­di­ence goes from 16-year-olds to women in their 80s. It spans that far,” com­ments Telfer Stevens.

“It’s like a kitchen party,” adds McCarthy. “Women from our kind of work­ing-class fam­i­lies, you’d go to a kitchen party with your grannies, your aun­ties, your mum.”

The Dolls be­gan as an old-style, mu­sic hall rou­tine, com­bin­ing stand-up com­edy with hu­mor­ous songs. They started their ca­reer, in May 2015, in the less-than-aus­pi­cious sur­round­ings of the Easter­house ma­sonic hall.

The act may have been rooted in a proud tra­di­tion, but the venue’s man­age­ment re­flected a less whole­some kind of her­itage, which hangs on tena­ciously in many Scot­tish com­mu­ni­ties. “They wouldn’t al­low my sec­ond name on the poster,” re­mem­bers McCarthy.

The man ar­rang­ing the book­ing at the hall told them he would, “need to put a piece of black tape” over McCarthy’s Ir­ish, Catholic sur­name. And so, in a mo­ment of sin­is­ter com­edy, The Dolls be­gan their pro­fes­sional life as “Gayle Telfer Stevens and Louise”.

From that, de­cid­edly odd, open­ing gig, the duo went on to play nu­mer­ous clubs, in­clud­ing a mem­o­rable ap­pear­ance at the Grampian Club in Corby in Northamp­ton­shire. The for­mer steel town is fa­mous for its mas­sive Scot­tish di­as­pora (around half of the town’s pop­u­la­tion are ei­ther Scots or of Scot­tish de­scent). “It’s full of Scots,” says Telfer Stevens. “They’re all cut­ting about in their Rangers and Celtic tops as if they’re in Glas­gow.”

It was in Corby, McCarthy re­mem­bers, that the duo re­alised they’d made it. “The queue was round the block, we sold it out. There were folk round the cor­ner go­ing, ‘We’ll sell you a Dolls ticket for 50 quid.’ The tick­ets were £10!”

Which is not to say that the pair want their fans be­ing ripped off by ticket touts. In fact, they en­joy a close re­la­tion­ship with their au­di­ence. Some­times it’s a bit too close, as Telfer Stevens re­calls: “Af­ter we played the Fair­field Cen­tre in Go­van – what a men­tal night that was! – this woman con­tacted us, and she said, ‘Lis­ten hen, I had diar­rhoea on Sun­day, can I get a ticket for another show?’”

The per­form­ers laugh un­con­trol­lably at this (as, I con­fess, dear reader, do I), un­til McCarthy adds: “I take com­fort in that. That’s our au­di­ence. They’re like fam­ily mem­bers.”

From sec­tar­ian blank­ing out on their posters in Easter­house, to in­flated black mar­ket ticket pric­ing in Corby, and too much in­for­ma­tion about the bow­els of a fan in Go­van, the rise of The Dolls has been un­con­ven­tional, to say the least. 2017 has been their break­through year, with sell-out per­for­mances of the show The Dolls Abroad (co-writ­ten by Telfer Stevens, McCarthy and fel­low comic ac­tor Fraser Boyle) and, now, a ma­jor Christ­mas show staged by UK’s big­gest pan­tomime pro­ducer, Scar­bor­ough-based Qdos En­ter­tain­ment.

“It’s been fan­tas­tic,” com­ments Telfer Stevens. “It’s been a riot,” adds McCarthy. “It has been a riot,” her part­ner agrees. “And a lot of pres­sure, I think, when you put a show like that out.

“It’s been men­tal. We never ever en­vis­aged it be­com­ing this big. We’ve just found our­selves here. That’s the point.” A S the cliche has it, it takes a lot of hard work to make an act like The Dolls seem so ef­fort­less, and no-one can doubt the se­ri­ous graft the pair have put in to land where they have, on the Ar­madillo stage with Gary: Tank Com­man­der.

Telfer Stevens has worked with Greg McHugh, record­ing an episode of the army com­edy. “He’s a nice guy,” she says. “He’s very tal­ented.”

“I re­mem­ber watch­ing him on YouTube, be­fore he ever went to TV,” McCarthy adds. “It was just him on a chair be­ing in­ter­viewed by some­body, and I re­mem­ber go­ing, ‘This is the fun­ni­est thing I’ve seen in years.’ I think we’re go­ing to have a good time.”

Telfer Stevens agrees. The com­bi­na­tion of Gary Tank’s camp-as-Christ­mas hu­mour and The Dolls’ out­ra­geous work­ing-class com­edy is, she says, a “no brainer”.

The pair pro­fess them­selves some­what “lucky” to have en­joyed such a strato­spheric rise with their dou­ble act. How­ever, they know their suc­cess is based on some­thing much more fun­da­men­tal.

“I’ve never worked with any­one that I’ve had this kind of chem­istry with,” says Telfer Stevens. “It’s a spe­cial bond, and that’s not just about friend­ship, that’s about what we do to­gether on stage. It’s about some­one hav­ing the same val­ues and the same ethic.

“It’s about say­ing, ‘We’re not go­ing down here with­out a fight. I’m go­ing to die here on this stage, I can’t give any more.’

“But there’s that per­son across from me go­ing, ‘We can do this’, it’s in the eyes. I’ll never give up for her, and she’ll never give up for me. That’s it in a nut­shell.”

“We love to kick our height and do the splits. That’s it!” adds McCarthy. “An op­por­tu­nity has pre­sented it­self, we’re go­ing to go for it and have a laugh.” Jack And The Beanstalk is at the SEC Ar­madillo from De­cem­ber 16 to Jan­uary 7

It’s been men­tal. We never ever en­vis­aged it be­com­ing this big. We’ve just found our­selves here. That’s the point

Pho­to­graph: Kirsty An­der­son

Above: Gayle Telfer Stevens and Louise McCarthy. Telfer and McCarthy in char­ac­ter as The Dolls ahead of their ap­pear­ance along­side Greg McHugh’s Gary: Tank Com­man­der in Jack And The Beanstalk at the Ar­madillo

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