Review: Paper Dolls

By John Nathan, March 14, 2013
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Tricycle Theatre, London NW6

By night, The Paper Dolls are a Filipino drag act. By day, they are carers to elderly Chasidim in Tel Aviv. Photo: Tristram Kenton

By night, The Paper Dolls are a Filipino drag act. By day, they are carers to elderly Chasidim in Tel Aviv. Photo: Tristram Kenton

This may be the year’s unlikeliest world premiere. Conceived and written by American Philip Himberg, the show was inspired by an Israeli documentary that followed Filipino immigrants who work by day in Tel Aviv as carers for elderly Chasidic men, and by night in gay bars as a drag act called The Paper Dolls.

Indhu Rubasingham’s skilful production offers a rare depiction, on the British stage, of Israeli society, from observant to atheist. It also reveals how the country’s immigration laws are ruthlessly applied to those invited to work there.

Moving between the opposite ends of Tel Aviv’s social spectrum are five gay Filipino men whose precarious presence in Israel is dependent on keeping their jobs as care workers to infirm Chasidim. Himberg’s script draws universal themes from this meeting of contrasting worlds — the yearning for a home and the need for acceptance.

Yet, because the focus is on five extravagantly camp men, the temperamental pitch of the show is often shrill, throwing the whole piece out of balance.

Of course, it could be just as wearing if the play centred on five breast-beating alpha males, and it is telling that Paper Dolls works best in the scenes of greatest contrast, such as those between house-bound octogenarian Chaim (Harry Dickman) and (male) home-help Sally (Francis Jue). The interplay between the five
Filipino men is simply less interesting.

Nor does their drag act have much flair. The Paper Dolls are good singers and movers up to a point, but there is a roughness around the edges — possibly there to retain an air of realism — that detracts from the performances.

Jon Norman Schneider as the selfish, youngest Paper Doll is good value and Ilan Goodman (son of Henry) turns in a terrific cameo as the waspishly camp nightclub owner. And any show that features Hatikvah-singing Filipino drag artists brandishing a giant Star of David, has to be worth a look. (www.tricycle.co.uk)

Last updated: 12:43pm, March 14 2013