Presented by The Theatre Centre, No Foreigners, a Hong Kong Exile and fu-GEN Theatre collaboration, returns to Toronto after a successful tour in 2018. This multimedia performance, created by Natalie Tin Yin Gan, Milton Lim, Remy Siu and David Yee, incorporates live cameras and miniature shadowplay.
Set in a North American Chinese shopping mall, multiple storylines unfold as contemplative urban fantasy. The line between reality and folklore shifts and blurs as characters—in both this life and beyond—interact and traverse the space.
A lot of the show’s humour assumes a certain familiarity with and affection for the large-scale, Chinese North American mall experience. The dramas, daydreams and adventures play out amongst the cheap and plentiful goods and services that line the seemingly endless hallways. Particularly amusing are the kitschy names given to travel agencies, electronics shops, trinket boutiques and bootleg dvd stalls.
Playwright David Yee’s meditative text shifts seamlessly between eerie, sad and hilarious cultural observations. Each of the storylines, jumping between fantasy and reality, convey the complexity of culture, how it shifts with each individual’s understanding of and contribution to it.
April Leung and Derek Chan, performing in both Cantonese and English, provide the myriad voices of the mall’s inhabitants and manipulate the miniatures (designed by them and Natalie Tin Yin Gan). The projected text that accompanies the spoken dialogue feels more dynamic than expected, its purpose shifting slightly from scene to scene. Variously, it provides translation, reveals inner thoughts or, conversely, suggests the surface level conversation while spoken dialogue represents an interior world.
The minimalist imagery is exceptionally evocative, immersive and compelling. The visuals employ simple yet oddly expressive geometric shapes that stand in for objects and background scenery. Milton Lim and Remy Siu’s projection design thoughtfully integrates the practical manipulation of objects and technology, so the creation of the images is an integral part of the images themselves.
From the cute, puppy-love longing of a travel agent for her customer to a hilariously over-the-top action scene in a food court, this clever production juxtaposes the intimate and the epic. I was particularly touched by a scene between an older husband and wife who run a cheap electronics store. As they adapt to the modern retail world with a hilariously clunky (and sneaky) website, we witness them lovingly navigate their shared past, present and future.
The interwoven stories and the intricate audio-visual design create a sense of the mundane, tangible reality of the mall while also suggesting a vast and mystical space within and beyond its walls. The mall provides a layered and vivid representation of how cultural meaning and identity are forged and shared. It holds the ideas, objects, knowledge, behaviour, and coded symbols of many people—across generations—struggling to discover or retain their Chinese-ness and, ultimately, to understand what that even is.
I imagine this production will resonate most strongly for a Chinese audience with a deeper and more specific frame of reference for its allusions, but regardless of age or race, No Foreigners is an innovative and introspective work that is sure to surprise and delight you.