Home » Reviews » Off West End » Stranger, Albany Theatre – Review

Stranger, Albany Theatre – Review

by Aorta Theatre Collective & Life Art
Co-directed by Rob Hale & Phan Y’Ly
Scenography by Paul Burgess
★★★

Pros: Instant connection with the audience by the performers. Language or culture differences ceased to exist.

Cons: The show requires comprehensive effort to enjoy it, due to the different performing techniques employed.

Our Verdict: Intuitive and groundbreaking take on social norms and gender exploration. Very moving.

Courtesy of Albany Theatre

Stranger is a groundbreaking, abstract piece of improvised acting brought to the stage by the conceptual ideas of Vietnamese performers Phan Y’ Ly and H’o Ngoc Bao Khiem. In a culture where being male or female is a far cry away from the exploration processes of sexuality, personal identity and household roles, Ly and Khiem take a step back and look into the set values and molds their society is build on, and wonder what it is to be a man or a woman. Are the distinctions so important in today’s society?

Groundbreaking would be the perfect word to describe it, the performances literally break down expectations of traditional theatre; it is a fifty minute collection of Ly and Khiem’s thoughts and perspectives brought about by the examination of Vietnamese social norms. It is comprised of series of segments put forward using mime, dance and a combination of stances and poses on stage.

Before the show started the two performers came out to talk to the audience, the first thing I noticed was how incredibly comfortable they looked. The stage was almost a projection of themselves and they oozed confidence. As premise to their performance they explained what was going to happen; because of the ‘improv’ nature of their work they didn’t actually know how the show would turn out or what they would do throughout: each night was different from the previous one. Some people had been coming back for five consecutive performances to be able to see the development of ideas, or new pieces that appeared on each occasion. Their one directorial element was a little timer, set to fifty minutes and subdivided into sections marking the different moments in action (introduction, climax…). As ideas and feelings surfaced and were made into something visible for the audience to appreciate (boxes, dolls, translucent screens would complement the performing techniques used) the timer hidden in the back acted as a guide to Ly and Khiem.

Let me give a few examples of what the audience was shown; At one moment Ly came on stage dressed in a suit with the sleeves too small for his arms: he didn’t quite fit in and struggled with them unsuccessfully. He looked truly uncomfortable and out of place. In another, Khiem had placed a dildo on top of a box and Ly, wearing a Vietnamese soldier hat, took it and started making gun sounds around stage. He then proceeded to put a skirt on and holding the dildo in his hands looked down at the skirt, his eyes showing remorse and guilt.

After the fifty minutes there was a Q&A session with the performers, director and scenographer. During this session Khiem explained how the idea for Stranger came to be – she explained that her mother and grandmother had been very strict on her behaviour, they would teach Khiem how to pose and how to satisfy Vietnamese men. In contrast, she would strive to find her voice through cultural demonstrations and explorations in her acting. She started to wonder what it was that made the ultimate ‘womanly woman’. Ly backed it up in Vietnamese helped by a translator that had been present through the performance transcribing the occasional word into English.

It took some imagination on my part to be able to understand what was happening, but I left the theatre still hypnotised from what I had just seen. I sincerely hope Ly and Khiem get a chance to come back to the UK to continue their work.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments in the section below!

Stranger ran at The Albany Theatre from 14 – 19 Sept 2013.

About Everything Theatre

Everything Theatre
Founded in 2011, Everything Theatre started life as a pokey blog run by two theatre enthusiasts and – thanks to the Entry Pass Scheme for 16-25 year olds – regular National Theatre goers. Today, we are run by part-time volunteers from a wide array of backgrounds. Among our various contributors are people who work in theatre, but also people who work in law, medicine, events, marketing and even psychiatry! We are all united by our love for the London theatre scene.