Paper Doll is an unpretentious insight into a twisted, emotionally turbulent and unfathomably complex relationship, gravitating around abuse, trauma and pain. This show was an artistic stand-out; a masterpiece of contemporary Perth theatre; and an equally ambitious and successful production with no parallel in its field. In terms of its emotional depth, and the quality of its performances and script, Paper Doll is the show you wish every other production could be.
In a bold leap of minimalism, the show had almost no props, lighting and true plot of which to speak. The collection of a few beer bottles, chips, and a dress were all very carefully and decidedly incorporated as key elements. There were only a few dramatic lighting changes at pertinent scenes. The plot was almost entirely snubbed in favour of showcasing an ongoing dissection and unravelling of the relationship between Him (Martin Ashley Jones) and Her (Hayley Pearl).
Such minimalistic stage elements required that the actors and script carry the show, creating a potentially hazardous and ambitious dynamic. In a testament to the quality of the acting, and the aptitude of playwright Katy Warner, not only did those involved successfully produce a poignant narrative, but they created a unique, gripping and mesmerising piece of theatre.
The performances of both Jones and Pearl were outstanding. Their monologues were memorable; their emotional outbursts, captivating. Until the very end, audiences were unsure whether Him was deserving of sympathy- until his subtly manipulative and disgusting reprehensibilities were revealed. The audience met the functioning, healthy Her, only to learn that she was the victim of unspeakable abuse- indeed, so unspeakable that it is not made clear in the play, and alluded to only through Pearl’s consuming recollections and movements.
Not only individually brilliant, these actors had an engrossing on-stage dynamic, with their physical exchanges as emotionally loaded as their intellectual ones. Their performances successfully communicated Him and Her’s relationship as one underscored by pain, spotted with nostalgic adoration, and mutually motivated to return to the better days of their strange and indefinable connection.
Regardless of these actors’ capabilities, Paper Doll could certainly not have excelled without the self-evidently superior writing talents of Katy Warner. In my experience, when the script has actors talk around ideas rather than address them directly, the efforts to create tension usually translate to a confused and disengaged audience. Warner, however, pulled it off, mostly attributable to the fact that the allusion-only approach was continued throughout the play, and was a major plot point- the audience never discovered the true nature of Him and Her’s relationship.
Paper Doll is a flawless, commendable production, and doubtless one of the best shows I have seen from this year’s FRINGE WORLD Festival. The talents of all those involved, especially Jones, Pearl and Warner, will hopefully continue to grace the Perth theatre scene for long to come. Intimate, candid and oftentimes incredibly uncomfortable to watch, Paper Doll surpassed my every expectation to rapidly become one of my most memorable theatre experiences.
Words by Stirling Kain