The Paper Dolls

Review by Flossie Waite
Presented by Little Angel Theatre and Polka Theatre

Little Angel Theatre
For ages 3-7
April 18th – June 28th

I’m going to start with a confession: I have never read Julia Donaldson’s picturebook The Paper Dolls. I have never read The Paper Dolls, and I purposefully avoid reading any interviews, articles or press releases about shows before I see them. So I entered Little Angel Theatre blind as to what to expect, and left crying just enough for the world to look woolly.

The play begins with Rosie and her “lovely Mummy” making a string of paper dolls – “Ticky and Tacky and Jackie the Backie and Jim with Two Noses and Jo with the Bow”. Rosie thinks up stories for her new friends, adventures involving tigers and crocodiles and a big red London bus, in which the dolls always triumph. In reality, their greatest enemy is her fiendish brother Tommy, hankering for revenge after Rosie borrows his favourite toy dinosaur.

They say that lightning doesn’t strike twice, but whatever magic went into the original book is decidedly present here. I can guess that it has something to do with the chemistry between puppeteers Andrea Sadler and Jane Crawshaw, and something else to do with Julian Butler’s music elevating every scene. Lyndie Wright’s set design places the stage inside a rectangular wooden structure, framing the action as if it were on the page. Except this isn’t a picturebook, and Rosie’s imagination is free to fly out into the audience.

Dealing with recollection, loss and family, The Paper Dolls gives a rounded view of everyday life, from sibling rivalries and sulking – Rosie has a tantrum worth the energy of two puppeteers – to its more delicate moments. It is fascinating to watch real paper dolls being cut into existence live on stage, and even when they are replaced by hardier puppets, they still have a flimsy, fragile quality. Anything could happen to them, through the narrative or a puppeteer’s overzealous tug, and you find yourself crossing fingers that it doesn’t.

Of course, it does. Tommy takes a pair of scissors and snips them into confetti, and even though this seems like an obvious turn of events, it’s still deeply shocking. Rosie is distraught, but her mum’s consoling aphorism, that “Nothing loved is ever lost”, leads to the true heart of this production. The stage becomes Rosie’s memory, and as she sits on a swing in a sunflower-filled garden, she is surrounded by the things she loves – her grandmother, the characters from her stories, and her paper dolls. If you don’t cry at this scene, then you will probably cry when we meet a grown-up Rosie, now a mother, teaching her own little girl how to make paper dolls. And if you don’t cry at that scene, then check your pulse.

(If you want to find out how the production shapes up to the book, check out this lovely review from The Guardian).

Photograph by Ellie Kurttz
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3 responses to “The Paper Dolls

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