Review: No Foreigners (Hong Kong Exile and fu-Gen Theatre Production)

photo silouette of 2 artist mannequins advertising No Foreigners playing at The Theatre Centre Toronto

“No Foreigners” is an innovative work with a beautiful dreamlike quality.

No Foreigners could be the exemplar for theatre collaboration; presented by The Theatre Centre, it’s a Hong Kong Exile and fu-GEN Theatre Production created by Natalie Tin Yin Gan, Milton Lim, Remy Siu and David Yee with April Leung and Derek Chan credited as co-creators.

The multimedia performance is set in a Chinese mall – like the Pacific Mall – and is a series of vignettes that are made by projecting small models through cameras onto a large screen. The dialogue is in Cantonese and English with English text at the top of the screen. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen before.

The miniatures, designed by Natalie Tin Yin Gan with April Leung and Derek Chan, are tiny. On the screen the people look like artist mannequins, but when I looked at them after the show, they’re about an inch tall. There are small platforms of detailed sets, a travel agency, an electronics store, a food court, a moth room, that are moved into camera range as needed. The result is beautiful.

I love the idea of the mall as the symbol of Chineseness and a place of hidden rooms, secrets, and myths.

April Leung and Derek Chan perform the piece in both Cantonese and English. They sit in the dark, their backs to the audience, in front of a row of computer monitors. The miniatures are beside them, and they move them in and out of the scenes and operate the cameras.

The only time they are lit is when Chan stands and faces the audience to perform a very emotive karaoke piece complete with coloured disco ball effects.

The story, as much as there is one, follows a young Asian Canadian man on his quest to be more Chinese. Some of the vignettes involve him; some don’t. Time is fluid, past, present and future all circling around and joining together to come back to where the show began.

David Yee’s text, running at the top of the screen, is part translation, part exposition, and part introspection. It moves easily from matter-of-fact to surreal -and I would have been completely lost without it.

My only quibble is with director Milton Lim’s pacing. The show has a slow, dreamy quality. Overall I enjoyed that, but in a couple of places it felt too slow; as if the characters were never going to respond to each other. One was in the electronics store scene and another in the final scene. In those moments, I felt that the piece crossed that line between dreaming and dragging.

Parts of the show are quite funny, especially an over-the-top fight scene in the food court and a travel agent’s inner monologue about the young man.

A Chinese audience would no doubt get a completely different show from No Foreigners than I did, but this innovative work with a beautiful dreamlike quality will appeal to all audiences. There are only a few performances left, and one of them is sold out, so get your tickets as soon as you can.

Details:

  • No Foreigners is playing until September 29th at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen St W.)
  • Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00pm and Sunday at 2:00pm
  • Tickets prices are Adult $28 | Student/senior/arts worker $18
  • Tickets are available online, by phone at 416-538-0988, and in person at the box office

Warning: Strobe lights are used during this performance

Image supplied by the company