thu 20/06/2024

Paper Dolls, Tricycle Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Paper Dolls, Tricycle Theatre

Paper Dolls, Tricycle Theatre

True story of Filipino carers and drag queens in Israel shows how connections can cross cultural divides

Culture clash: what the Paper Dolls lack in talent they make up for in enthusiasmTristram Kenton

Five male Filipinos in Tel Aviv live double lives. By day, they care for dying Orthodox Jews; by night, they are a drag act, the Paper Dolls. Based on real life, this play tells an incredible story that must be heard. Unfortunately, this production is not necessarily the one to tell it.

The story conveys how connections can be forged between clashing cultures. Elderly Jewish men and young Filipino transsexuals can have the same values; the same need for a sense of home; the same longing for companionship. Somewhere here is a heartbreaking, poignant play, focusing on one of this drama's many threads: the relationship between Sally Salvador, a conscientious carer, and his patient Chaim, who has throat cancer.

'Hava Nagili' segues surprisingly well into 'Lady Marmalade'

The best scenes in this production show the tender moments between the pair as Sally answers Chaim's phone or says a Hebrew blessing, while Chaim struggles with losing his independence. Chaim's daughter, visiting from New York, is jealous of Sally's relationship and confused by his sexuality. Francis Jue as Sally (pictured below, centre) and Harry Dickman as Chaim (pictured below, left) have terrific chemistry, but Caroline Wildi as Adina (pictured below, right) could do with lowering her hysterical intensity occasionally.

Playwright Philip Himberg has adapted Paper Dolls from Tomer Heymann's documentary film, itself cut from a six-part TV series. Perhaps this explains the cluttering of storylines. The main narrative is the care workers' search for fame as the Paper Dolls, but Himberg tries to pack in a lot more, from their individual lives to their attitudes towards immigration. Every conversation also seems to add an often inconsequential conflict between characters.

Harry Dickman Francis Jue Caroline Wildi Paper DollsIn many scenes, the Paper Dolls sing and dance too badly to enjoy the performances for their musicality or moves, but not badly enough to find funny. This is no reflection on the actors' ability – their characters are part of an amateur group – but it doesn't make for great entertainment. Angelo Paragoso as Zhan provides the occasional flash of talent, but those with ears could do with more.

On the music side, “Hava Nagili” (the Jewish folk song popular at weddings) segues surprisingly well into “Lady Marmalade” (popularised by All Saints); and there is a joyful rendition of Cyndi Lauper's “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”. The rest of the karaoke tunes could go. The Israeli songs, including “Hatikvah” (the national anthem) and “Oseh Shalom” (a prayer about peace) are considerably richer.

Indhu Rubasingham's direction is fast and punchy, with Richard Kent and Oliver Fenwick working together on the set and lighting design to create numerous scenes: from a gay club to various homes to the Wailing Wall. The vibrant wigs, swimwear and tutus make Joseph's Technicolor dreamcoat seem drab, although Paris Fashion Week this is not.

The camp melodrama of the Paper Dolls might ring true in a documentary, but on stage, it irritates. Dickman and Noa Bodner – the latter playing the open-minded friend of the cameraman's mother – are the only actors that convince. Considering this story is based on real lives, it would have been good for there to have been more of that. 

The Paper Dolls sing and dance too badly to enjoy the performances for their musicality or moves, but not badly enough to find funny


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

Share this article


Lady Marmalade was most recently popularised by Lil' Kim, Christina Aguilera, Mya, Pink & Missy Elliot. Not All Saints... that's DATED... a little bit like the writing in this review... Can someone with a mind, SOME writing skills, and a basic knowledge of the entertainment world review the shows next time? I don't know what to think of Paper Dolls now, if the critic reviewing it seems to have fallen asleep for 15 years worth of entertainment culture...

This review is about as superficial as you can get. Don't tell me about the wigs. Who cares about the wigs. What did this play attempt to say? How did it fail or succeed in that regard? In the context of British theater, where does this play land?

Casting aspersions from behind the cloak of anonymity is not very brave, is it? 

Saw the show last night. The review is very fair. It's an overlong mess of underdeveloped writing and generalised sentiment. I might seek out the original documentary to find out about the real lives involved in the story, because this karaoke theatricalisation fails to engage the audience at any depth. Much too often it feels like a piece of devised theatre sponsored by the Israeli Tourist Board to attract adventurers to Tel Aviv's (not terribly) exciting night-life attractions...

As probabbly they need to develop the theme and the story. ANd to also practice more for the set up and their voices to have better entertainment to people. But I think their concept is nice

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters