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Foreign Goods Last Forever at Theatre503

Foreign Goods Last Forever
Foreign Goods Last Forever – Photo by Mariana Feijó Fernandes

A title like Foreign Goods Last Forever, however long ago this event may have been originally conceived, could not help but be incredibly apt in a world in which pockets of nationalism and sentiments against people from overseas have become more visible on both sides of the Atlantic in recent weeks and months. In this context, how utterly delightful it was that this event, a collection of six new plays (or, at least in some cases, extracts from them), should be performed on the set of Theatre503’s seasonal family pantomime, Scrooge and The Seven Dwarves, with what looks like some sort of Yellow Brick Road boldly crossing the entire stage, with artificial grass covering the rest of it.

Under A Red Blood Moon by Lucy Sheen proved the most appropriate of the showcased plays for this set. On an outdoor bench, Mona (Shenagh Govan) encounters Ida (Lucy Sheen). The former is, had this been a Jane Austen novel, best described as ‘impertinent’ – in a more contemporary setting, ‘forthright’ probably sums it up better. The latter, initially stunned by her new companion’s seeming disregard for pleasantries, finds common ground with her very quickly indeed, which felt slightly implausible: I would have expected a little more awkwardness. But it’s more of a comedy play than a morality play, and in the end, all things considered, it’s a hoot.

Yours by Naomi Sumner is highly dramatic, for two reasons. Firstly, there’s some excellent and witty poetry to be enjoyed to begin with. Secondly, the dialogue that follows retains a richness of language that is far from naturalistic but nonetheless compelling. Included in the narrative is an us/them atmosphere that the script creates between certain characters based in the UK and others in Hong Kong. But, ultimately, this piece came across to me as an empathetic and sensitive portrayal of the individual and collective thoughts of a teenager (Julie Cheung-Inhin), her mother by adoption (Angela Harvey) and her birth mother (Eugenia Low). I need not go into further detail here, suffice to say life hasn’t been plain sailing for any of them.

Foreign Goods Last Forever
Foreign Goods Last Forever – Photo by Mariana Feijó Fernandes

Lactose Intolerant by Naomi Christie was simultaneously and paradoxically subtler and more confrontational than Yours, perhaps because there was much greater existing familiarity between the different characters, which allowed for more frankness. Luke (Stephen Hoo), grown up but still living at home, has one of those mothers that is generous to a fault, and it takes what I presumed to be Luke’s ex-partner (Holly Fry) to put her foot down and wear the trousers. It is an additional scene in a supermarket that came across as almost absurd, and both highly amusing and deeply troubling.

I’m Just Here To Buy Soy Sauce by Jingan Young certainly did have the claustrophobic feeling of being in a broken-down lift. Freddie (Ben Norris) and Cassandra (Lucy Roslyn) discuss in some detail what is going on with the London property market, and in so doing provide some insight as to why it is on an unstoppable rise irrespective of social, economic or political circumstances. It is the second scene, however, with different characters, Fraser (Ben Norris) and Charmaine (Lucy Roslyn), that the stark reality of what passes for affordable housing in Greater London hits home. This piece is a useful reminder that the stresses and problems faced by Generation Rent are not just clinical questions of economics, but relate to personal contentment too.

Acceptance by Amy Lee was more of an exposition of moral failings in the admissions process in the American higher education system than anything else. The system is not, if the play set in one particular institution is to be extrapolated across the USA, institutionally racist. Nonetheless, Angela Chan (Dita Tantang), can’t help feeling something is amiss when she is invited to Elliott, presumably a fictional university. The Deputy Director of Admissions (Hilary Harwood) is at pains to tell her that 37,451 applications have been received, across the board for all subjects taught, though tellingly, how many university places Elliott has to offer is never revealed: are they really oversubscribed? This piece had an exorbitant amount of detail crammed into a relatively short time-frame, and came across as trying to achieve too much. Not all the philosophical points made here were strictly necessary to advance the narrative.

The Swing by Suet Lee Tan had an impenetrable first scene, and a shocking but comical second scene. In the first, there’s some seductive action in a monologue, though the words of the said monologue betray the character’s movements, particularly in a line about a grenade “falling into the mouth of a child”. (Nope. I’ve no idea why such a thing would occur either.) But this play redeems itself in the second scene. Mei Soon Tan (Charlotte Chiew) is auditioning for Laurence Wright (Stephen Hoo), a film director. Highlighting the problem with casting people for anything other than purely on merit, as still happens today, the audible gasps from the audience in response to Wright’s attitude and philosophies speak for themselves.

There was something for everyone in this eclectic mix of new plays from female playwrights, all performed with minimal staging, allowing the scripts, and some great acting, to really shine. It is a pity this was a ‘one night only’ event. A week’s run to allow more people to see an event of this nature would be more suitable. As it was, it was a worthwhile and intriguing event.

Pokfulam Rd Productions 薄扶林道 and Theatre503 present…
Foreign Goods Last Forever
NEW WRITING FROM SIX FEMALE, BRITISH CHINESE/SOUTH EAST ASIAN WRITERS
Tuesday 29th of November 7:45pm
https://theatre503.com/

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