Theatre review: Paper Doll

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Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Jen (Diana Ruppe) and Rog (Chris Stack) are in a somewhat shabby motel room, celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary.

Greenside @ Infirmary Street (Venue 236)

****

Well, not exactly “celebrating”: there are clear signs that their marriage is on the rocks, and while Jen approaches everything with a depressed, even morbid fatalism – going so far as to goad Rog into making their usual role-playing more violent and deadly – Rog is manically trying to make everything right, to give them both a fresh start. He keeps on hinting he has the surprise of a lifetime in store, if only Jen would get into the spirit.

Paper Doll spends its first half exploring the intricacies of this relationship, and doing a great job of it – indeed, the whole thing could just have focused on Jen and Rog’s dysfunctional dynamic, teasing out Rog’s clueless desperation and Jen’s dangerous sex/death fixation, and it would have been a perfectly serviceable drama about a misfit marriage in crisis.

Instead, there’s an unexpected twist midway through, which elevates the play from intriguing territory to downright compelling.

It’s a testament to Susan Eve Haar’s writing that the twist doesn’t jar against the rest of the story – in fact, the time Paper Doll invests in laying the groundwork of its leading characters and their relationship pays dividends when they are confronted with something out of the ordinary. Ruppe and Stack also deserve kudos for making Jen and Rog so relatable, or at least recognisable – the pair have clearly not been dealt the best hand in life, and in their emotional immaturity and dead-end outlook bring to mind Natural Born Killers’ Mickey and Mallory Knox (if, instead of going on a psychopathic killing spree, Mickey and Mallory had simply channelled their passions into low-level bondage and role-play in poorly decorated motel rooms).

Until 26 August. Today 9pm.