REVIEW: OTHER [chinese] (Q Matchbox)

Review by Tim George

[Identity and the Chorus]

Following her solo show White/Other, Alice Canton has expanded her exploration of identity into a multifaceted production driven by a variety of voices. In her attempt to tackle the question of what it means to be Chinese in Aotearoa, she has made the logical jump to recruit a massive cast of ‘storytellers’ to share their own experiences in order to figure out an answer.

Featuring a huge cast, OTHER [chinese] is a mix of documentary, focus group and improv session.

Red curtains cover the walls and three large screens hang against the back wall. At key points, interviews with various New Zealand Chinese people play.

Canton is an active part of the show, asking her cast to take a stance for or against an issue (‘Should Mandarin be compulsory in schools?’; ‘Are Chinese overachievers?’;  ‘Are Kiwis down to earth?’) and then picking out people to explain their choices.

The show feels like a brainstorm; Canton’s questions, the cast’s testimonials, and the interview clips sprout off into different areas of inquiry. Themes such as assimilation, sexual fetishisation and Whiteness rise to the surface.

This description makes it sound more complicated than it is – as a vehicle for conveying the diversity of human experience that Canton’s question attempts to address, this show is a remarkable success.

What I really liked was that at  no point did it feel didactic. By layering voices and stories on top of each other, Canton makes her points in the manner of a movie montage, creating meaning out of juxtaposition rather than exposition. One touch I really liked was when there were patches of Mandarin and Cantonese, they went untranslated. Not everything needs to be explained, and some things do not need words to be understood.

The show never loses focus, and – to its credit – it never really resolves.

My one criticism of Canton’s last show was that it felt like it stopped just as it was getting started. With this thematic sequel, the climax feels natural, an ellipses for the audience to figure out on their own.

An empathetic chorus of human experience, OTHER [chinese] is a great show, and the confirmation of Canton’s talent.

OTHER [chinese] plays at Q until 16 September. 
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