By Ellis Koch
This may sound strange but . . . perhaps the best review one could write for Made in China 2.0 is no review. If I could convince you to see this show by publishing nothing but a blank, empty page I most certainly would. That would be the most fitting review (and make my job quite easy!) but I’m afraid it wouldn’t get my intended outcome across – that is, to convey the need for you to see this show – and so you must settle for my second best review effort.
Actually, scratch that – it’s technically my third best effort … but unfortunately I can’t tell you about the second best effort for a number of reasons. There are many things I can’t tell you about with regard to this show so you’re going to have to put your trust in me and my third best effort for a moment as I try to paint an enticing, if not vaguely shaped, picture of why you must see Made in China 2.0.
I will say though that if the best version is a blank review then the second best would be a heavily redacted review. And it was just that exactly – a clever, stylised and heavily redacted review … But, ultimately, a failure in what my aim was: to entice you without giving anything away. The second version said too much while deliberately saying too little . . . So while Made in China 2.0 speaks quite plainly, and boldly, please allow this third version of my review to just paint around the edges.
I want to write many things about this piece of theatre from Wang Chong. I want to tell you all about it. But I can’t. Not, perhaps, in a way that might help compel you to go and see it. But you must see it. If you can, please – take me at my word. You must see this performance. It’s odd – as someone who would normally avoid discussing or reviewing the content of a piece, for once I feel strongly compelled to do so . . . yet I cannot. Not directly. I can’t tell you about memorable lines or themes. I can’t tell you about specific imagery. I can’t tell you about the artist’s intent.
I can’t tell you about much at all.
Why such mystery? Well . . . I can’t tell you that, either.
So what can I tell you? Well . . . I can tell you that Made in China 2.0 is a masterful piece of theatre. It is a monologue. It uses multiple conventions to great effect. Lighting, sound, music, dance, video, dialogue, props. There is a lot of direct address and Wang Chong carries it with a deep, engaging charisma. He breaks it up with cleverly wrought asides. There is deep connection. Comedy. Drama. Light and shade. The theatrical elements are sharply and seamlessly executed, as is the performance. Wang is a marvel to watch. The production, as a whole, is a marvel to watch.
I can tell you that during this wonderful performance I was struck by how inadequate much of our home-grown theatre here in Australia has become. Is that hyperbole? I can’t really tell you that, either. But it’s how I felt. My own creative endeavours feel hollow in the face of Wang’s performance. I’m not trying to invalidate the work of Australian creatives, not by a long shot. But Made in China 2.0 raises the stakes. It sets a bar in a way that many of us can’t compete with . . .
I just can’t tell you why.
This is, perhaps, mildly infuriating to you – how can I qualify my assertions without delving deeper into what I saw? Truth? I can’t. It’s why you must take me at my word and see it for yourself.
As a nation, our creativity is a little soft in the middle. Wang’s work is no such thing. It’s lean and lithe, full of intent with no word, silence or pointed breath wasted. There is no fat here, no soft and safe middle-aged spread, only well-honed material. It’s funny and painful. As I belly laughed at one particular scene the woman next to me had glassy eyes and wiped tears from her cheeks, clearly experiencing the scene in a way that I never could, even though I understood, in a cerebral way, why it affected her so.
Wang is an intelligent man with a keen desire to take his work to the edge of safety … and throw it all off. There is an adage behind the scenes in theatre training – show, don’t tell – but Wang’s work in Made in China 2.0 both shows and tells in a masterful way. In between direct address that makes no bones about what it is saying, Wang and his design team have crafted a piece that visually highlights the themes of the show in splendid fashion.
As I skirt around the edges here I find it difficult to withhold discussing specifics – but in keeping with generality I can say that the whole fifty-five minutes is bloody marvellous. Wang is captivating in his delivery of both the verbal and the physical aspects of the piece. The set design is simple, but highly functional. The lighting design is simple, but highly functional. The sound design is simple, but highly functional. Nothing is wasted on stage – there is a purpose to everything.
That’s something I could tell you, actually:
There is great purpose to this piece of theatre.
And while great purpose in and of itself does not always make an interesting performance piece the highly skilled people behind this production – Wang Chong (writer, co-director and cast), Emma Valente (Co-director and Production Designer), Emma Lockhart-Wilson (Co-Designer) and Mark Pritchard (Dramaturg) – have crafted a riveting performance full of purpose and intent that elevates it to something beyond mere entertainment and into the realm of critical viewing. What is Made in China 2.0? As Wang Chong himself has stated:
“One show. One audience. My story. This is only in person. This is only to you”.
You will undoubtedly walk away from this in contemplation.
Of what exactly . . . ? Well, I can’t tell you. For a number of reasons, the least of which is because I just don’t want to spoil the surprise but, more importantly because . . .
Actually, I can’t tell you that either.
Image: Tamarah Scott