“The candypop colours fizz and zing and feel alive with fun and possibility”
Since U Been Gone is an autobiographical piece, in which Teddy Lamb intertwines stories of personal grief and loss with their own ongoing journey of self-discovery and self-definition. Teddy tells the story, with a live underscore performed on the electric guitar by Nicol Parkinson – quietly resplendent in a fabulous silver frock – with whom they share a stage. Teddy is a charming and engaging performer, with a gentle touch, who establishes a sense of warm intimacy with the audience immediately. Their words are direct and honest – as this type of show demands – but are occasionally shot through with beautiful currents of unexpected poetry. They are also, at points, extremely funny. (Put it this way, no-one who sees this show will every hear Eminem’s Lose Yourself in the same way again!).
Pete Butler (Set Designer) and Zia Bergin-Holly (Lighting Designer) have made the show look gorgeous, with a palette reminiscent of a 1960s TV set. The candypop colours fizz and zing and feel alive with fun and possibility, which serves at different times as both emphasis and ironic counterpoint to the narrative. For the most part, Billy Barrett (Director), wisely lets Teddy tell us the story without too much directorial intervention, and the few more obviously choreographed moments are well-placed, helping to give the words extra pace and texture when they need it. The live underscore is wonderful throughout, and the occasional moments in which Nicol Parkinson subtly sashays into the story, with a perfectly timed twang of the guitar, are just sublime.
This show is more than an intimate audience with an engaging performer, however. Teddy Lamb’s cleverly crafted text shines a light on the difficulties that beset gender-queer people on a daily basis in our society. Our non-binary and trans brothers and sisters encounter hostility and aggression in every aspect of their lives almost continually, and it behoves us all to step up and do better. One of the things we can all start with is pronoun awareness. Early on in the show, Teddy explains that, unlike the ‘strong, soft, comfortable’ feeling the pronoun ‘they’ gives, ‘he’ ‘feels like wearing an uncomfortable beige suit’. Which begs the question: why should anyone feel uncomfortable in what they wear, when clothes should allow us to dance?
“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.