Conceived by Haylin Cai. Developed with Harry Dean and Tingying Dong, Out of the Blue Theatre
Available online until Dec. 28
Running time: 55 minutes, plus after show Zoom chats.
In a time of bitter, divisive politics, the positive, as well as the negative aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it is truly global: people everywhere feel the same fear, sorrow and frustration at the same time.
London-trained theatre director Haylin Cai grasped this simple, beautiful truth when she returned to her home in Wuhan, China, at the height of its lockdown and realised the hours she spent alone in her bedroom had inspired a concept with exciting potential and the kind of international appeal more often associated with music than theatre.
She then developed an English text with Out of the Blue Theatre company. It has been translated into French and German, as well as her native Chinese, enabling her parents to understand her work for the first time, and it takes us on a journey within the rooms that may have begun to feel like prison cells.
Part meditation, part interactive drama, its aim is to provide the heightened and shared sense of being alive that theatre at its best achieves as we immerse ourselves collectively in the drama of the moment, use our imaginations and shut out the distractions of Twitter, WeChat, Instagram, TikTok and all the rest.
It’s a celebration of “synchronicity,” to use the word of Alexis Danan, who translates and acts an elegant, poetic French version, which, together with a German version, reflects Franco-German funding to help restore cultural activities in Wuhan.
Cai’s target audience is youthful and there is much emphasis on the play aspect of theatre as an exploration of the human condition. We play hide and seek. We play with the water in the half-filled glass we have been advised to prepare ahead of the performance. We rename the objects around us. We confide secrets in them. We create a new world from our everyday to the deft musical accompaniment of sound-designer Tingying Dong.
But the appeal of being asked to relive what it was like to be an eight year-old child wonder-struck at the realisation that more than half of our bodies are made of the water swilling round our half-full (definitely not half-empty) glass and coursing through rivers and into oceans is compelling for any age.
Equally, whether we are young or old, we can look across to the windows of our neighbours’ homes and wonder who exactly is behind them. Are they people the same as us, thinking and doing the same things and maybe inhabiting their own Imaginarium, just as we are?
Barbara Lewis © 2020.