Home » London Theatre Reviews » Expatriated at Hen & Chickens Theatre | Review

Expatriated at Hen & Chickens Theatre | Review

I don’t know if there’s less need to have expatriates these days in a world of Skype, Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and other video communication services that mean that people don’t necessarily have to commute within the same city let alone move continents for work. As the mother of a Hong Kong immigrant to Los Angeles points out in this show, if the multinational company that her daughter works for has, for the most part, assigned her to Chinese clients –then she could communicate just as well with them from the Hong Kong office, and be in the same time zone, as opposed to being an ocean away.

Expatriated. Credit Liam Doyle.
Expatriated. Credit Liam Doyle.

Candace Leung and Dominique Roberts play, respectively, a Hong Kong immigrant to Los Angeles and a Los Angeles expat to Hong Kong – the production makes a distinction between ‘immigrant’ and ‘expat’, using the generally accepted terms for the respective directions of traffic. The difference in terminology may be slight at face value, but it becomes increasingly notable as the storyline unfolds. There are some expected differences between the two places, though the production is keen to show commonalities where they realistically exist.

It’s more nuanced and sophisticated than labelling one side or the other ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and both characters have several moments when they find themselves bewildered by what precisely is going on. When the Hong Konger in Los Angeles is summoned to a meeting with a human resources executive, there is no clear action plan as to what should happen next, as the firm cites privacy, confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements. The absurdities of corporate working life are laid bare in Hong Kong too, where the American expat can’t work out why certain decisions have been made.

This play challenges some stereotypes, with a barista in LA providing quite surly customer service as opposed to energetic friendliness, and a human resources manager in HK who displays textbook interpersonal skills, rather than being snappy and highly strung. The show has a lot of short scenes, and the dual setting means the dialogue is split between (in no particular order) English, Mandarin and Cantonese. Not everything is translated, giving the audience the kind of feeling one might feel if suddenly relocating to Hong Kong.

I found it remarkable quite how much was packed into a highly efficient production, with a running time of just under an hour – I even found out about the USA’s ‘Diversity Immigrant Visa Program’, colloquially called the Green Card Lottery (the number of applicants always far exceeds the number of available visas, however strict the criteria, so the US Department of State operates an actual lottery), and the strict visa requirements for ‘imported workers’ in Hong Kong. Surprisingly, it didn’t feel rushed, and it was refreshing – dare I say unusual – to find mobile telephones being used to make voice calls. An enlightening and entertaining piece of theatre.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Why are some people “expats” while others are “immigrants”? An LA lawyer finds herself in the vibrant city of Hong Kong, while on the other side of the world a Hong Kong lawyer faces the crushing reality of starting a new life in LA. In a single act, Expatriated candidly explores the dichotomy of experiences faced by two young women who leave home seeking new horizons, and the uncertainty, privilege and injustice they face along the way.

Sunday 28 April 2024

Performance at 3:00pm

Hen & Chickens Theatre, Islington

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