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Paper Dolls, Tricycle Theatre

Philip Himberg
Directed by Indhu Rubasingham

Pros: This show is lively, enchanting and huge fun. Lovely characters and wonderful music.

Cons: There is a lack of focus in the script and some overacting from the cast.

Our Verdict: Flawed, but wonderful.

Courtesy of The Tricycle Theatre

The Tricycle theatre is a terrific, quirky space which is both a theatre and a cinema. It also serves jerk chicken for £7 – one of the best I’ve ever eaten and feels like the kind of place you could stay for a whole day, going from film to food to play and back again. Paper Dolls is brilliant fun, despite being a bit rough and ready. It tells the story of five Filipino transvestites living in Tel Aviv who care for old Hasidic Jewish men by day, but when night falls, they are the fabulous drag act, Paper Dolls. Everything that you would hope for is delivered. The culture clashes are at times hilarious but also touching. The Paper Dolls’ show had me clapping along, and contrasted very effectively with the hauntingly beautiful Hebrew music. What ultimately emerges is a story of friendship and shared humanity.

The play is based on a documentary film by Tomer Heymann. Possibly as a result, the stories feel very real and the characters extremely believable, but the story is also quite meandering. It’s a series of vignettes with snapshots into the lives of the Paper Dolls – which, vivid as it is, lacks real focus. The most important and moving strand of the story is the relationship between Sally (played by Francis Jue) and her carer, Chaim. He has come to accept her completely and she cares for him like family. When Adina (Caroline Wildi), Chaim’s daughter, turns up to take him back to New York, she is at first appalled by Sally but, taking her cue from her father, also grows to care for her.

There’s a lot of overacting, particularly in the most dramatic moments, and the accents (Filipino or Israeli) are often pretty off. Thankfully, the singing is good when it needs to be and Noa Bodner’s voice is particularly impressive. In the case of the Paper Dolls, their performances toe the line very effectively between deliberate amateurishness (they are not a world class act and we are never led to believe that they are) and infectious exuberance.

So, if you are prepared to forgive this play’s flaws, it’s a fantastic and engaging watch. The lives of the Paper Dolls are unusual and endlessly fascinating. Their characters are hugely endearing. You want to hang out with them, watch them bicker and hear them sing. When they sing Girls Just Wanna Have Fun as the show ends, you find yourself wishing you could have fun with them just a little bit longer.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Paper Dolls runs at the Tricycle Theatre until 28th April 2013.
Box Office: 020 7328 1000 or book online at http://www.tricycle.co.uk/current-programme-pages/theatre/theatre-programme-main/paper-dolls/

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