At the beginning of The Paper Man, the cast asks audience members to raise their hands if they don’t like football. About half the room’s go up. But like the sport or not, everyone’s got a story about football.
From the inventive, part improv theatre company Improbable, this is a play about putting on a play. The lead Lee Simpson (a founding member of the company) wants to do a show about Matthias Sindelar, an Austrian footballer who defied the Nazis by scoring goals against the German team. But he hires three female actors to do so, and as one of the cast (rightly) points out, no one wants to hear about another dead white man.
So instead, what we get is a ramshackle series of stories, some related to football (Jess Mabel–Jones recalls her teenage years watching the boys play in the rain), some completely irrelevant (one awkward segment sees audience members pick pieces of paper out of a bowl, each of which have a personal question written on it). Other scenes are clearly meant to be funny, but are met with silence rather than laughs, and I also can’t help but feel that when three of the cast dress up as Hitler and dance around the room – complete with moustaches, swastikas, and Nazi salutes – this really misses the mark.
It’s a real shame, because the overarching message about who holds the power to tell stories is a powerful one. Some of the shadow puppetry is quite affecting and the cast themselves all have clear talent. But you can’t ignore that the night I’m there quite a few audience members leave before the play has finished. I guess The Paper Man is a bit like football that way – really not everyone’s cup of tea.
Review written by Anna Bonet.
The Paper Man is currently showing until Saturday 9th March 2019 at the Soho Theatre. To find out more about the production, visit here…