Reviewed – 5th February 2020
“brimming with ideas that don’t feel as though they’ve fully come together”
There’s been much discussion lately around the contradiction of Brexiteers who, fed up with foreigners in the UK, are also indignant at the suggestion Brexit may impact their ability to live abroad. This largely unexamined difference between ‘immigrants’ and ‘expats’ is at the heart of David East’s Lost Laowais.
Directed by Tian Brown-Sampson, the play follows the intertwining lives of four expats in Beijing. Julian (East) has a Cambridge degree in Oriental Studies, and is finding it difficult to admit his love of China is unrequited. Lisa (Siu-See Hung) is a British woman of Chinese heritage. She doesn’t speak Chinese, and is quickly finding the country unwelcoming to those who don’t. Robert (Joseph Wilkins), a celebrated British writer who has lived in China for more than twenty years, has learned the many reasons it can never be a real home for foreigners. Ollie (Waylon Luke Ma) is the teenage son of a diplomat, who relocates with his family every few years. All four of them are outsiders. All four of them are lonely.
Lost Laowais brings forward timely ideas about belonging and multicultural identities, but misses the mark with an uneven script and some unpolished staging. Although East faithfully portrays a pretentious Oxbridge expat, the dialogue often feels stilted. The characters’ interactions could do with smoothing. Choppy scenes broken by slightly clumsy transitions, shuffling chairs and tables in the dark, are not aided by awkward sound cues (Liam Mercer) – whether ambient noise or music – which cut off partway through both the scenes and transitions.
There’s groundwork for some intriguing material about expats as voluntary exiles, but the script doesn’t quite manage to make us care about Julian and Robert as much as we need to. The play is strongest when it focuses on Lisa’s perspective. The granddaughter of Chinese immigrants, she snaps at Julian when he suggests he’s an immigrant too. She reminds him he makes more money than his Chinese colleagues, and that he moved to Beijing because he was bored, not out of desperation for a better life. Lisa’s experience of being caught between two cultures, and feeling cut off from the country of her heritage by language especially, is more compelling than the somewhat predictable romantic storyline she’s given.
In the days following Brexit, it’s a good moment to take a hard look at British expats. This is a show brimming with ideas that don’t feel as though they’ve fully come together.
Reviewed by Addison Waite
Reviewed – 26th June 2018
“visual clumsiness only added to the overall amateur quality of the evening”
The Space looked interesting last night. Inviting. Scattered leaves and crisp packets were strewn across the floor; a bike lay on its side; we were clearly on the edges of an inner city playground, a place pregnant with theatrical possibility. Unfortunately, the play that unfolded over the next hour did not fulfil these promising expectations. It lacked both narrative drive and pace, and the unconvincing performances did nothing to lift it beyond the realm of the banal.
The play is a three-hander, in which we see a group of friends – Ben (David East), Shaz (Abigail Sewell) and Tyrice (Christian Graham) – spend the night drinking in a park. Ben is having trouble dealing with his current circumstances – his ex-girlfriend is pregnant and he has just lost his job – and has come home after a five year absence to seek comfort and advice from the two people closest to him.
The piece opened with the recital of six different poems, exploring childhood, love, London, connection and alienation. Poetry in performance is a tricky art to master, and the performers here met with varying degrees of success, but the energy given to Dominic Holman’s untitled lyrical meditation on childhood, and to Tina Nye’s I am London, was welcome, particularly given what was to follow. (Neither of these pieces were performed by the actors featured in the play, and the programme was unclear as to whether the poets doubled as performers in this instance).
Be Born was characterised by a lack of energy, in both the writing and the acting. Christian Graham, the playwright, who also took the role of Tyrice, is not a trained performer, and his lack of tonal variation did nothing to help his fellow actors. The dialogue never lifted from the script, and the characters stayed stuck on the page, despite the naturalism of the setting. The play contained both a serious asthma attack and an on-stage accident (complete with blood pill), but these events are no substitute for drama, of which there was none. Even the promise of an offstage birth proved to be a false alarm.
In addition, the lighting design seemed almost wilfully unhelpful. Immediately after the initial poetry recital, the audience was put into blackout, into which came the first few lines of dialogue. The lights then came up, into what looked like warm daylight, and positively blazed about a third of the way through, making nonsense of one of the characters’ observations that, ‘It’ll be getting light soon’. This visual clumsiness only added to the overall amateur quality of the evening.
The Space has long been a venue which enables and supports new writing and emerging talent – indeed there were some terrific pieces on show at the One Festival earlier in the year – and as such, is entitled to ask its audiences to come with an open mind, and a willingness to engage with writers and performers at the beginning of their artistic journey. That being said, when a full-price ticket costs £14, the audience too is entitled, to expect theatre realised at a professional level. Be Born failed to meet that standard.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Photography by XXXXXXXXXX
The Space until 30th June
Previously reviewed at this venue