Feb 7 2013 by Hannah Bewley, Harrow Observer
THE premise of Paper Dolls is irresistible to anyone with a curious mind or a love of the bizarre.
It is based on a documentary film of the same name about a group of people trying to find their place in the world – and singing some great pop songs at the same time – and as story-telling goes, it has it all.
Two cast members, one from the other side of the Atlantic and one from just down the road, are passionate about the new play at The Tricyle Theatre in High Road, Kilburn, and are fascinated with the characters, just as fans of the film were when it came out in 2006.
Caroline Wildi, who plays Adina, and Francis Jue, who plays transgender Sally, are enthusiastic about the story and the production itself.
The story revolves around a group of Filipino transsexuals, who are at different stages of gender transition and work as carers for Orthodox Jewish men in Tel Aviv.
At night they perform as the Paper Dolls, a practice which would have been strictly forbidden in the Phillipines.
The production contains a number of songs, including Girls Just Want to Have Fun as well as some more recent hits, in both Hebrew and English.
Francis said: “People are going to love the songs. It is mainly pop songs – some are popular now and some are old classics. There’s even some Bananarama in there.”
The play was written by Philip Himberg and is directed by Indhu Rubasingham, the artistic director who took over from Nicolas Kent at the theatre last year and has made such a mark she can no longer be described as ‘new’.
It was adapted from the award-winning documentary by Tomer Heymann, which was filmed over five years in Tel Aviv.
Francis said: “I saw the documentary by chance and thought it was fascinating and I only realised when I auditioned that it was the same film. My character has been created by the writer and only exists in the play.
“What Phil has done is to take the lives of real people and real circumstances and really transforms it into a play. He has brought all sorts of concurrent meanings together.
“I think there are many inventions of Phil’s in this adaptation of the film. You get to know characters better, you get to know what was going on and get to know what was going on in Israel at the time. I think the central themes that Philip was so enamoured by have been kept in the play.”
Francis said that playing the part of a man dressed as a woman was not a first for him, but this story posed particular challenges.
The 49-year-old said: “Very early on in my career I was in M. Butterfly and ever since then I have been asked on occasion to play roles that were men dressed as women.
“When Phil originally asked me to do this I had to think about it in a another way.
“I don’t feel like a man playing a woman, she is a woman who happens to be born with male equipment. For some reason this made a huge difference in how I am approaching it.
“With Sally I haven’t felt the need to be beautiful or cultured. She just is a woman. The clothes she wears every day when she is not on stage are normal, it is not drag at all. You see them relaxing, at home and living a normal life as well as performing on stage.”
Caroline said: “The other thing about the play is that it is about acceptance and finding a place where you feel at home. That is the case with my character, a daughter of one of the men being cared for, she has never known anyone like Sally and is incredibly surprised to find out who is caring for her father.”
Although the group may seem remarkable, their story is like many others which have gone before.
Francis said: “It can be a fabulous ride, when you are really far away and you are trying to find your home, finding your family. That’s what the characters are looking for, they want to find their home.”
They both said working at the Tricycle had a certain appeal.
Caroline said: “This is my first production here and it is very exciting. I haven’t worked here before but I live in Warwick Avenue so come here to see the productions and I love this theatre.”
Francis added: “When I told my friends in New York about it, all the British actors said that this was the one place that they all wanted to work.”
n Paper Dolls is at the Tricycle Theatre from February 28 until 13 April. For more information and tickets see www.tricycle.co.uk.