“It’s hard to say whether I would have enjoyed this much more if I understood Chinese, but my guess is no”
There’s no doubt that Qianqian Chen’s ‘Safety Net’ is intentionally confusing – fractured timelines, one character played by two actors, and an abstract set design. But I can’t imagine it was intended to be completely incomprehensible.
Along with a programme, the audience is provided with a translation of various scenes that will take place in Chinese. Beside the fact that it’s quite difficult to read in a darkened theatre, let alone follow what’s taking place on stage whilst doing so, there are actually twice as many scenes in Chinese as there are printed translations. For the first couple I can hear the audience desperately rustling through, trying to find the correlating translation but after a while there’s a collective giving up, simply allowing the words to wash over us, with little to no grasp on what is happening.
The premise – as cobbled together from my hazy understanding, and the explanation on the programme – is about a young Chinese woman, Jing (Siqi Han/Lilian Tsang) living in the US whilst her fiancé Tian (Robin, Khor Yong Kuan) lives in China. In a strange and unknown environment Jing struggles with the new and the traditional; the passionate versus the practical.
The setting (Joy Huang) is equally as opaque as the script, devised only of black and white blocks, continuously restacked and reshuffled with no explanation. Similarly, the lighting (Jinwen Wang) spotlights on moments of seeming importance but those moments are not properly expounded upon. It’s hard to say whether I would have enjoyed this much more if I understood Chinese, but my guess is no.
“holds up a mirror to modern life and exposes its contradictions and ironies… impressively, it does this with playfulness, originality and charm”
Saga is the daughter of God, sent down from Heaven to observe how we live on Earth. In her brief time here, she passes through a series of social scenarios that point out to her the various extremes of human nature.
Written by Michael Currell and loosely based on August Strindberg’s A Dream Play from 1901, this clever and witty one-hour production is ambitious and covers a lot of thematic ground. Saga is witness to racism, our treatment of the homeless, the superficiality of social media and the shallowness of political opportunists. The play squeezes in plenty of Big Issues (the property ladder, Brexit and poverty are all referenced) without taking obvious positions of judgement, perhaps because the narrative is so overtly surreal.
Some of the dialogue, references and in-jokes – and even some singing – takes place in Swedish. If you are Swedish (like many of the audience), it will obviously mean a lot more to you. If, like me, you’re not Swedish you may find parts of it completely baffling and somewhat alienating. But this frustration aside, you can still enjoy the general sense of whimsy and the ABBA songs that appear at the beginning and the end of the show.
The three supporting actors (Olivia Skoog, Marie Rabe and Julia Florimo) do an excellent job of bringing to life various characters, multitasking seamlessly in a way that makes the cast seem far larger than it is. Frida Storm is particularly strong in the lead part, conveying a believable innocence and naivety that’s touching and more than a little sad. She cannot understand the cruelty people demonstrate. Seeking to experience love, it makes no sense to her to hear of YouTube ‘likes’. And finding beauty all around her, she cannot fathom why human behaviour can be so ugly.
Directed and produced by Olivia Stone with the most minimal of stage sets, Saga holds up a mirror to modern life and exposes its contradictions and ironies. Impressively, it does this with playfulness, originality and charm.