Here’s an interesting twist to the usual film-to-stage adaptations that regularly invade our stages. Paper Dolls is based on a 2006 documentary film by Tomer Heymann about the real-life stories of five Filipino care workers who look after elderly Israelis in Tel Aviv. The care staff also pursue a sideline as a drag troupe in gay nightclubs.
So it is a genuinely original, affecting story, and three of the Filipino men were in the audience at the Tricycle’s first night (the play is dedicated to a fourth, Salvador ‘Sally’ Camatoy, who was killed in 2007). But as adapted for the stage with an episodic, plodding sincerity by Philip Himberg, who tells us in the programme that he went through some 25 drafts and two workshops before reaching this point, it feels as though the inner lives have been drained from these characters and their alternately large and petty squabbles have been simply plonked onstage rather than illuminated.
Paper Dolls comes across like an earnest, big-hearted Filipino version of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Despite the prowling presence of Hasidic men in the background, which underscores the potentially violent clash of cultures represented here, it all feels very cosy. But most damaging of all, the frequent drag interludes hardly suggest there’s much talent behind their ambitions and there are moments that are toe-curlingly embarrassing.
We are left with one central story of carer Sally and his long relationship with his Orthodox client Chaim, who is dying of cancer, and the arrival of Chaim’s daughter from the US trying to get him to come back to live with her there. This triangle of affection is touchingly played by Francis Jue’s Sally, Harry Dickman’s Chaim and Caroline Wildi as his daughter, and Sally’s arrest on immigration issues gives it some dramatic punch.
But elsewhere the drama is clunkily played. It only made me want to see the documentary, not this threadbare recreation of it.