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Sunday 24 March 2013

Paper Dolls, play written by P. Himberg, directed by I. Rubasingham, Tricycle Theatre London, 7* out of 10

What is the opposite of a “clash of cultures”? It’s when two cultures so opposed to each other that they must clash and conflict confound us as brought together they lead to unexpectedly warm and meaningful relationships.

Paper Dolls is a new play about Filipino Transgender migrants, who work in Israel looking after Jewish Orthodox elderly men in need of care. In addition to their day job they form a transvestite act (called the Paper Dolls) that is looking to break through on Tel Aviv’s vibrant night club scene. The play is a fictionalized an dramatized account of the 2006 award winning documentary film of the same name by Tomer Heymann. 

Paper Dolls revolves around the relationships of the men wit each other and with the people they care for. It also shows the ambivalent relationship between the their host country Israel that allows them to come and work there. They earn enough money to send some of it home to their families in the Philippines, but are not allowed to stay on and settle in Israel, although they are loyal grateful, well integrated and highly productive members of Israeli society who have learnt to speak fluent Hebrew.  

Himberg’s play is partly Cage-aux-Folles-type comedy and partly poignant drama. It raises questions about the status of migrant workers, caring for the elderly and bridging gaps that may seem unbridgeable. Most moving is the relationship between the old man Chaim (Harry Dickman) and his caregiver Sally (Francis Jue).  

While all the members of the Paper Dolls have to leave Israel as their visas expire Paper Dolls is ultimately an optimistic tale that confounds our expectations and shows that common humanity can bridge great differences.

Paper Dolls is not a great or very deep play, but it is a worthwhile play, which one leaves uplifted and well entertained; moreover, it manages to make the audience think about the stereotypes and prejudices we all hold dear. Competent performances, and the songs sung in Hebrew and English add to the entertainment. 

Indhu Rubasingham, the Artistic Director of the Tricycle Theatre, met writer Philip Himberg at the Sundance Theatre Festival, which just underlines the roles of Sundance and the Tricycle Theatre as much needed dynamos, encouraging creativity in the theatre. Long may they continue to do so.

Tuesday 5 March 2013

The Hunt ,(original title Jagten), Film, Denmark (2012), directed by Nikolas Vinterberg, 9* out of 10

Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen),  has become a kindergarten teacher in the village where he grew up.He is also part of a group of friends who in the local tradition regularly goes hunting together in the local countryside with a group of friends. Hunting successes are celebrated and hunting failures are mocked at sumptuous meals where the prey is devoured while alcohol and conversation flow freely.

Lucas has just gone through a lengthy divorce and his son has to decide whether he wants to live with his mother or with Lucas. At the kindergarten he meets and starts a relationship with Nadya (Alexandra Rapaport) a recent immigrant to Denmark, who works there.

Lucas is very much liked by the children in the kindergarten, among them Klara, the daughter of Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen) one of his best friends. After Klara has caught a glimpse of a porn video on the laptop of her teenage brother, she mentions to the head teacher of the kindergarten, that she has seen Lucas with his erect penis and he asked her to touch it.

The head teacher quickly jumps to the plausible conclusion that 4 year old Klara cannot have invented such a story even though Lucas, of course, denies it. She suspends Lucas, informs the parents of all the children in the kindergarten of her suspicions and brings in an experienced child-abuse specialist to speak to Klara and the other children. As the investigation proceeds, Lucas defends himself and tries to stand his ground as he is ostracised by the community of which he was part.

Jagten is a realistic social drama of the kind that the many international fans of the Danish television series Borgen and The Killing miss since these have come to the end of their run. Their common theme is how ordinary people, with whom we can easily identify,  face extraordinary situations in their professional lives and, at the same time, try to hold their private lives together. “Situations make a man and not a man a situation”; and that, of course goes for women, too. There are no evil or heroic characters here, just everyday people who have to face a situation they never expected to be in as best they can and have their character tested by it.

Mads Mikkelsen as Lucas stands out among a very competent ensemble of actors. His strong understated performance rightfully has earned him the best actor award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. The story of Jagten unfolds over one year with a strong sense of place. It shows the changing seasons and local customs that make a community. This lets us empathise with Lucas’ need to fight back and attempt to clear his name rather than just eave. Co- writer (with Tobias Lindholm) and director Thomas Vinterberg tells a story that holds the viewers attention from beginning to end. We can sympathize with all the characters, and so Jagten makes the viewer think deeply and from different perspectives. Our thoughts will return to this story and its characters long after the film has ended.

Don’t be put off by not wanting to see a film about child abuse. The accusation of child abuse drives the actual theme: a close and friendly community plausibly, yet mistakenly turns on one of its own; he in turn fights back, sometimes in despair but also with great dignity. Paradoxically that dignity is likely to come in no small part from having been raised in the community that now threatens to destroy it.