Strut & Fret Theatre Company bring a student production, Being and Nothingness, to the Fringe this year. The show is bilingual, which isn’t stated in the blurb, so there are a few confused looking faces in the audience when it begins in Mandarin. Thankfully there are subtitles, and when the dialogue is in English, the subtitles switch to Mandarin.
This show is based on the premise of inspecting identity. Xiao is a young girl, who’s moved to England three years ago to study abroad. She’s now back in China for the holidays. Interspersed within this story is her grandmother’s own narrative. Suffering from Alzheimer’s, Xiao’s grandmother is in a care home.
Xiao sees her friends and doesn’t recognise who she’s become. Like a true expatriate, she feels neither at home in her home country nor when she’s in her new home. She reminisces of the past in some nostalgic scenes. At the care home, meanwhile, we see the drudgery of the staff and their apathy towards their patients. As the narrative weaves through these two stories, Xiao grapples with the lost half of her grandmother’s bedtime story.
The writing in this show is beautiful and poetic. The actor who plays Xiao is talented; being able to express herself fluently in two languages, the strength of her performance carries this piece through. However, the quality of the translation lets the production down. When the dialogue is in Mandarin, the English translations aren’t always clear. While it is possible to glean from context, the true emotion is lost due to the lack of clarity. For example, it isn’t clear in the scene with her boyfriend why Xiao gets upset with him and why they get into an argument.
This is a shame in what is otherwise a good show both in terms of the script as well as the performance. This is definitely a theatre group to look out for in the future.