Theatre Review: Paper Dolls @ The Tricycle Theatre

Image from Jolly B. Fierce. Photo: Jason Pangilinan

A musical play based on a short documentary about a Filipino drag act in Tel Aviv is an unusual prospect, but then so are the Paper Dolls.

On the surface this is a show about culture clashes, demonstrated by a drag number of the traditional Jewish folk song “Hava Nagila” mixing into “Lady Marmalade”. Dispossessed Eastern people with a love of Western culture find themselves in the cosmopolitan but culturally complex Israel. However, this isn’t just a comparison between the darkly dressed Hasidic Jews and the sparkly dressed Filipinos.

In the daytime, the five performers are carers for the elderly. We get an insight into one of these stories through Sally (Salvador), who has looked after Chaim for nearly a decade. They have a tender relationship of understanding and acceptance, but Chaim is dying, which means Sally’s visa will soon become invalid. It sets up several opportunities for dialogue on the nature of family, cultural identity and home.

The main thrust is actually that we live in liminal times, where everyone is transitioning. Whether that’s finding a new homeland, new loves, or a new identity. The specifics of religious tensions in Israel, or Phillipine economy are overshadowed by universal themes, which makes it more accessible and surprisingly emotional for the audience.

The documentary origins (by Tomer Heymann) are apparent. One character is making a documentary film and provides an on-stage eye, which projects images on to the back wall. The scenes are short, and each highlight a specific argument. It’s not always beautifully written or acted, but it is very honest, and from our understanding of queer culture in Tel Aviv (which is quite good but that’s another story), it’s pretty accurate too.

The set is dreary, but flexible enough to be several homes, the Wailing Wall, and a nightclub. But beige wonderfully showcases the 90s pop-influenced co-ordinated dresses that are brilliantly made out of newspaper. The other musical numbers, including “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “Venus”, are performed as well as you would want a drag act to perform — that means it’s trashy brashy fun, and slightly embarrassing if you can’t imagine why someone would want to get up there and shake some feathers.

As an extra treat, three of the original Paper Dolls were present at press night, now living happily in London — yes, there’s the Londonist angle on this review. It’s suggested that another member who went to Dubai after Tel Aviv did not have such an easy ride. Be thankful then we live in a city that offers a home to people who can’t stop moving.

Paper Dolls runs until Saturday 13 April 2013 at The Tricycle Theatre. Tickets are £14-£22 available online.

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