Kevin Kwong

The Tongue's Memory of Home

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2008, 12:00am

The Tongue's Memory of Home


Fringe Theatre

Reviewed: Jan 17

This hour-long production combines movement, dance, sound and video to depict the horrors of losing one's sense of identity and individuality.

Directed by Zhang Xian, The Tongue's Memory of Home is inspired by excerpts of unpublished works by Shanghai poets of the 1980s: Wang Yin, Lu Yimin and Zhang Zhen. The focus is not so much on their poems but the fact they were banned by the authorities at the time, when poetry was considered (as in many authoritarian states) to be dangerous. This piece explores the other side of the coin: when everyone's tongue has become a tool for one collective voice, this will eventually drown out all traces of individualism.

The show is a collage of unconnected and disjointed visual, textual, audio and physical narratives stressing aesthetics rather than logic. It began with the four performers - Nunu, Xiao Ke, Li Zhen and Zhang Xuezhou - cocooned inside a white duvet, producing different throaty noises in unison. Then a video started on an adjacent screen, showing a thick cloud of white smoke rising from their feet in slow motion. The imagery was visually stunning.

There were other memorable moments: when the performers posed for their prisoner photos, the stage lights went on and off at the click of an old-style camera. The choreography was also neat: the quartet moved in perfect rhythm.

This work has been performed in Holland, Italy and Switzerland and won a Zurcher Theater Spektakel award in 2006. The theme of censorship in communist China and references to Cultural Revolution art (such as prototype dancing) may still interest a western audience but seasoned local theatre-goers may find these a little well-worn. Nevertheless, the energy of the four young mainland artists made this show both dynamic and engaging.