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A CurtainUp London London Review
Paper Dolls

A world tour like The Spice Girls - only pretty. — Zhan
Papers Dolls
Harry Dickman as Chaim surrounded by Francis Jue as Sally, Jon Norman Schneider as Jiorgio, Angelo Paradaso as Zhan, Caroline Wildi as Adina and Ron Domingo as Chiqui (Photo: Tristram Kenton)
The new, well half year old, regime at The Tricycle is a lot more fun than those rather earnest and verbatim plays about politics. Indhu Rubasingham's last play of her first season as Artistic Director, is the most extraordinary and quirky clash of culture, religion, gender politics and nationality. Paper Dolls, here in a World Premiere, is based on a true story about men from the Philippines who are carers for elderly, orthodox Jewish men

. The dictate of orthodox Jewry is that women cannot provide intimate care for these men. The resulting cultural potpourri is that visas can be issued to Filipino men to work in Israel in the homes of the elderly. Some of these men and all who figure in Philip Himberg's play are gay and will dress as women and on their day off, look to launch careers in show business as drag acts. The name Paper Dolls comes from the exotic dresses that they make out of rolled newspapers and magazines or in weaving folded magazines which make lovely costumes for their show business act.

The story starts at the airport in Tel Aviv when Cheska (Benjamin Wong) goes through Immigration. Yossi (Tom Berish) is an Israeli documentary film maker will make a film about the Filipino men and introduce them to a show business promoter. Sally (Francis Jue) born Salvatore and brought up as a Catholic looks after Chaim (Harry Dickman), whom she calls Papa. Chaim has throat cancer and finds it difficult to talk. Sally has learnt to recite and sing the Jewish prayers for Chaim. Sally and another "doll" will be detained and threatened with deportation. Adina (Caroline Wildi) is Chaim's daughter, grieving for her son Ezra killed by the abominably named "friendly fire". We shall also meet Yossi family when the dolls are welcomed by his mother Yael (Jane Bertish). The group will audition for a drag act and be instructed to appear as Japanese geishas which they are unhappy with. The documentary film allows for much biographical detail about the Paper Dolls to be uncovered in a natural way.

The most pleasing aspect of this play is its humanity. The elderly are well cared for, with affection and humour. One man, given the choice, would rather stay with his carer in Israel than move to live with his daughter in New York. The carers are also seen with their foibles and personal difficulties. One tells us he must pay back $3500 to the agents who arranged the employment and the visa and of course, if they lose their job, or the person they care for dies, they are in danger of being deported with debt. The up side about life in Tel Aviv is that the Paper Dolls are allowed to be themselves one day a week in a somewhat cheesy drag act.

Interspersed in the play are atmospheric and traditional folk songs from Hasidic young men in those black hats with ringlets as well as popular music sung by the Paper Dolls. The set is a concrete stairs and balcony which allows for different playing levels. When Yossi is filming, the images are projected at the rear. In the opening scene, Hebrew script is projected across the concrete. A sad, plaintive Jewish folk song is followed by the Pythonesque culture shock of a drag act singing the Bananarama hit, "Venus". The feel good closing number sees "Take A Walk On The Wild Side" paired with all of the rest of the cast as young Hasidim.

The originality and good will of Paper Dolls counters any misgivings about some aspects of the taste of the piece and I found myself grinning with these likeable characters. On opening night at the end of the play, director Indhu Rubasingham introduced on stage, three of the real Paper Dolls.

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Papers Dolls
Written by Philip Himberg
Adapted from the documentary film by Tomer Heymann
Directed by Indhu Rubasingham

Starring: Tom Berish, Ron Domingo, Francis Jue, Angelo Paragoso, Jon Norman Schneider, Benjamin Wong, Jane Bertish, Harry Dickman, Caroline Wildi
With: Noa Bodner, Ilan Goodman, Shimi Goodman, Tom Oakley
Designed by Richard Kent
Music: Nigel Lilley and Max Ringham
Lighting: Oliver Fenwick
Sound: Ben and Max Ringham
Choreography: Alistair David
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes including an interval
Box Office: 020 7328 1000
Booking to 28th April 2013
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 6th March 2013 at the Tricycle Theatre, 269 Kilburn High Road, London NW6 7JR (Tube: Kilburn)

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