Fringe Review: "Paper Doll" is a laid-bare, searing actor's showcase
The New Ghost Theatre production Paper Doll is a heartbreaking drama, with a story spun in an innovative manner that leads to satisfying final twist. A dramatic mystery, if you will. The subject matter is dark, confronting, and will certainly make you feel uncomfortable. The performances are sound, but the real reason to see this is the play’s ingenious story-telling approach.
The unique and curious method that writer Katy Warner and director Lucy Clements weave their story around a disturbing subject matter is truly my favourite feature of this show. There is no narrative introduction. The performance synopsis deliberately gives the audience minimal story details. We simply meet our actors in a featureless set, where they converse back and forth with minimal props for forty-five minutes. Like the layers of an onion, the audience are slowly fed expertly-placed dialogue and emotive clues to peel away at the story, which I dare not spoil for you in this review. It is not until the very end of the production that the audience can finally walk away and understand the characters’ relationship, their history, and core reason of why the subject matter is so dark.
With a stripped back set, mood setting lighting and minimal props, we are left with only the actor’s performance to drive the story. Martin Ashley Jones plays an elderly gentleman, and Hayley Pearl, a younger woman who owns the home the play is set in. For unknown reasons, they are conversing awkwardly in her residence when the production begins. Despite the awkward beginning the interactions grow and gradually explore more and more of the characters’ history. The emotions explored by the cast is a roller coaster, ranging from nervousness, anger, rage and fear, to happiness and nurtured safety. The acting performances are both overall strong, with Hayley’s portrayal of vulnerability very believable, and Martin’s enraged yelling proving quite distressing. When they express nervousness, you will feel awkward. When there are arguments, you will feel viscerally uncomfortable. There are occasional moments of over acting, but this is fairly forgivable.
So there you have it. you will be uncomfortable in your viewing of this interesting and thought-provoking performance of Paper Doll. But don’t let that scare you off, the show is well worth the price of admission.