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stranger for feast

This review was originally written for The Public Review. http://www.thepublicreviews.com/stranger-tara-arts-london/

The concept of this show requires a little explanation. The performance is devised by the company and is improvised nightly and features video work by the Welsh performance artist Eddie Ladd. A collaboration between Same Stuff Theatre of Vietnam and Aorta Theatre Collective of UK, the aim is to explore male/female power struggles in an eastern culture and present it in a universal language to any audience. The performance comprises movement, dance, song and on-stage commentary and conversation by the male and female performers, which is interpreted by a translator on stage. The video is controlled by the scenographer and the lighting and music are controlled by the cast creating even more layers of improvisation. The video work presents an androgynous presence in the space for the two performers to work with, creating a third element in the gender dialog. The flexible set of screens and boxes gives further landscape to explore space and light, including the ideas of privacy, containment or simply the opportunity for some shadow puppetry.

With so many variables and the loose framework, the outcome is understandably mixed. Directed by Rob Hale and Phan Y Ly, the visuals and symbolism of exploring gender roles, stereotype and the interplay of role reversals are overtly obvious. There are props of skirts, a combat helmet, high heels and even more explicitly on the gender theme, dildos. The message is rammed down the throat of the audience but there is an authenticity to the representations. Also present is a sense of Vietnam from the various music, props, poses and movement which helps to elevate the interest in its delivery. Another main theme is conflict and a little argument the performers had before the show is introduced into the performance between scenes by breaking the fourth wall. This serves to further the gender power struggle discussion but unfortunately, breaks up the overall rhythm of an already truncated show.

One of the highlights is the dynamics and chemistry between the performers Phan Y Ly and Ho Ngoc Bao Khiem, perfectly honed for the themes presented here. Her feminine physique yet slightly domineering style mirrors his masculine appearance but largely subordinated demeanour. Yet it is more subtle than described here and this carries right through to the Q&A session afterwards. Although some of the comments here may sound critical, this intriguing mix of media, style and collaboration means this a rare and unique show.

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