Here at the Polka Theatre it’s half term and the families are excitedly squashed into this beautifully refurbished venue for a performance of The Paper Dolls, aimed at children aged 3-7. It’s a page-to-stage adaptation of Julia Donaldson’s much-loved picture book, originally illustrated by Rebecca Cobb. The transformation of main character Rosie from drawing into puppet form is absolutely adorable! With her tiger slippers and butterfly hairclip, she is ready to go about her day at home with her mum.
It then takes just a plain piece of paper, a pair of scissors and a little girl’s imagination to transport the audience to a host of exciting places, battling tigers, dinosaurs and crocodiles en route with a chain of paper pals. In a full 45 minutes of creating and imagining there is not a screen in sight, as the show uses everyday objects and toys to excitingly expand Rosie’s world and reveal a host of possibility amongst the ordinary.
Puppeteers Andrea Sadler and Clare Ponting make an excellent team. They playfully merge Rosie’s fabulous fantasy world with the reality of life with her mum, building in all the recognisable little actions that it takes to get through the day: counting as she puts her slippers on, singing songs and learning in multiple ways, along with mum trying to find five minutes to herself! Additional songs and magical music allow the audience to dive deep into Rosie’s imagination, naming all her paper dolls along with her as they are enthusiastically animated.
Peter Glanville’s adaptation releases the simple original text from the page, allowing it to really soar into physical form. There are thrills and spills aplenty as we explore the house and garden, stretching their confines when Rosie’s toys are brought to life, playing with scale and crafting new spaces amongst familiar ones, while inventing delightful characters. Some great audience interactions engage the watching children, including one especially fun one with snorty piggies, which had everyone giggling and shouting out loud. Meanwhile, the set design is impressively innovative and surprising, allowing a garden to unroll before us, taking us out on the sea and up into the stars, and focussing on tiny detail to great effect.
It’s really nice to see a little girl unapologetically playing with buses, dinosaurs and tigers, so it is a little uncomfortable that this is then undermined by her brother redefining the dinosaur as his toy – not a feature of the original book. It also seems rather wanting that he is never reprimanded for his mean behaviour and Rosie just has to live with it: the patriarchy rules on. These negative incidents do signal his later destructive behaviour, so it is less of a shock when it finally occurs, but it’s a shame they are not decisively addressed, and it’s left to him to recognise what he’s done.
The story concludes on an encouragingly positive note, with friendship and forgiveness, and a coping strategy for loss through embracing memory. It’s wonderfully cyclical, as Rosie passes her love of imagination and creativity on to her own daughter, and the paper dolls are reincarnated and reinvented.
This is a charming, beautifully presented tale that cheerfully demonstrates how imagination and memory can be creative forces. You will love the fabulous puppetry and perhaps be encouraged to explore what you and your children can find concealed within a blank sheet of paper.
Based on the original book by: Julia Donaldson
Directed and Adapted by Peter Glanville
Produced by: Polka Theatre and Little Angel Theatre
The Paper Dolls plays at Polka Theatre until 7 August. Further information and bookings can be found here.