Paper Dolls

Paper Dolls is advertised as a one-man show, but the person standing in front of us for the next hour isn't the show’s performer, writer, director and producer Shaun Nolan; rather it's Billy, a young man who apparently decided to become a politician and sprouted his first pubic hair on the same day. It's quite good as first lines go, though arguably then slightly undermined by Billy not being sure whether the two were linked.

Nolan’s taste is clearly excellent, but his work at the moment isn't really up to his own standards—yet.

Standing for election as a Westminster MP, Billy's campaign is initially somewhat sketchy, both within and outside of the story; until, that is, he decided upon the single issue that would help push his campaign forward. He chooses to push for unisex changing rooms within the Department Store where he works; a move which apparently raises a significant amount of controversy with local media, social media platforms and, eventually even some national mainstream news outlets. Over the course of a week, Billy learns much about the world, not least the near dozen other candidates also standing in the election.

The most notable of these is the Conservative candidate (and Billy's most obvious "Frenemy") James. As with all the other characters, we only see James through Billy's eyes, and there are some reasons to doubt him for being a somewhat self-centred, unreliable narrator. Nevertheless the dynamic between the two characters is arguably the most interesting aspect of Paper Dolls, not least their momentary "Will they, Won’t they?" rendezvous in a gents toilet, full of narrative promise. In the end, though, James and the other characters are all there just to underscore Billy's own narrative, rather than explain their own.

There’s an earnestness and presumption about this production that at times verges on the annoying; despite Nolan's on-stage presence and reasonable vocal talents, his own script ensures that it's neither easy to warm to Billy nor care much about his unisex changing rooms and the apparent animosity they inspire. To paraphrase the US radio presenter Ira Glass, Nolan’s taste is clearly excellent, but his work at the moment isn't really up to his own standards—yet.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

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★★★★
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Performances

Location

The Blurb

You think you’re having a hard week? Meet Billy. As part of Billy’s campaign to become an independent Member of Parliament, he’s introducing a unisex changing room in the huge London department store he works at, but finding success isn’t going to be easy. While Billy deals with sceptics and naysayers, he must also form a pitch to prove to his dubious manager that this changing room is an idea that should stay. What’s the worst that could happen? This unforgettable new one-man comedy features countless hilarious characters, all written and performed by Shaun Nolan.