November 05, 2018

OzAsia Festival 2018

Lines of Communication

Here is the Message You Asked for …Don’t Tell Anyone Else ;-)
Created by en? (What has happened ? How does it come to this ?)
Chunqiu Theatre Company, Dream Can.
Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre.
November 1.
OzAsia concludes November 11.

OzAsia is in its final week in Adelaide and again highlights artistic director, Joseph Mitchell’s flair for finding the new and intriguing in Asian performance art. This time it is 33 year old Chinese director, Sun Xiaoxing and his creative team with a work entitled (punctuation emoji included) Here is the Message You Asked For …Don’t Tell Anyone Else ;-)

Usually on any visit to the theatre comes the stern reminder to turn off all mobile phones. Here, the message is to download WeChat and start interacting with audience members and performers in the show.

Sun Xiaoxing’s stage design consists of three double bunks (with two more at the sides for audience members) which are the elaborately decorated bedroom retreats of four actors (Yue Ming, A Sheng, Midori and Hua Hua, each representing specific Manga avatars ) plus three musicians. All are young women.

They are in their cramped cells shrouded in diaphanous curtaining, dressed and wigged in pink and pastel Japanese Manga costumes and sailor suits, surrounded with over-sized plush toys, laptops, and (like the audience) constantly gawking into their phones.

They chatter in Mandarin (untranslated because they have nothing of consequence to say) and their moods vary from torpid to anxious. This is a virtual cocoon of fluffy fantasy and retreat, a commentary on the bedroom exile of infantilised teenagers in urban societies both West and East. It is a gently implicit satire, but a rebuke nonetheless, of a culture too saturated in distractions to function intelligibly.

Images are projected on to the bunk curtains ; wide-eyed Manga images, clips of Japanese Idol performers, occasional street footage of energetic teenagers – in marked contrast to the languorous but hyperkinetic vision in front of us. The stage is draped in pale mauve curtaining, festooned with LED rope-lights and random objects including a helium-filled shark balloon. Projected messages in English start to appear – “Troubled by my own personality” and, later, stamped on each of the four cell bedrooms – “Problem”.

We are simultaneously immersed, fascinated and bewildered by this indolent spectacle, periodically energised by the waves of excellent post-rock music from A Re (vocals, keyboards and dazzling guitar) A Can (bass) and Qi Yu (electronic drums). It is rather like watching the oscillating profusion of the internet itself.

The texts reveal an audience bemused but also galvanised : ”Je suis confused”, “Has it started yet ?” Someone observes: “We are all connected but unsure of what is happening in front of us. “ “Isn’t that the point ? – disconnection” comes a reply.

Perhaps the answer is in the energetically communal finale. The performers surge into the audience space, blowing bubbles and hurling soft toys. Suddenly, no-one is looking down at their phone any more.

Published in slightly edited form as: “East and West, phones are pests” The Australian, November 6, 2018, p.14.

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