Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre reviews: This Is Not A Show About Hong Kong | Nightlands

A shifting world order and new waves of global authoritarianism are addressed in two plays to have caught Joyce McMillan's eye – one a bold and immensely vivid hour about the oppressed young people of Hong Kong, the other an imaginative leap into the minds of two Russian people with different experiences of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

This is Not a Show about Hong Kong. Pic: Simon Adrians.
This is Not a Show about Hong Kong. Pic: Simon Adrians.

This Is Not A Show About Hong Kong ****

Underbelly Cowgate (Venue 61), until 28 August

Hide Ad

Nightlands ***

Summerhall (Venue 26), run completed

Hide Ad

The world’s tilt towards a dangerous new stand-off between two hostile power-blocs has happened so swiftly, over the last half-decade, that few theatre-makers in the west have yet come to grips with it. For the company presenting This Is Not A Show About Hong Kong, though, there has been no choice in the matter; and over a fragmented but immensely vivid hour, they conjure up a series of impressionistic images of a generation of young Hong Kong people ever more oppressed and hemmed in by increasingly authoritarian rule from Beijing, in direct breach of the promises when the UK handed control of Hong Kong to China, in 1997.

So in this bold show, presented by Max Perry and Friends with the help of an Underbelly Untapped Award, we see dance-like sequences referring back to the “umbrella” protests of 2014, families rowing over the young people’s involvement in protests, powerful scenes suggesting the suppression of gay love, or the loss of any kind of future, symbolised by a sad phantom pregnancy. And at the end, a young man stands with a suitcase, as he makes the now all but inevitable journey towards a new life in Britain; reminding us as he goes that “feeling safe all the time” is an increasingly rare luxury, in a world reeling under new waves of authoritarianism, and the violent conflict that comes in its wake.

Hide Ad

In Dogstar Theatre’s new show Nightlands, by contrast, young Scottish writer-director Jack MacGregor makes a huge imaginative leap into the minds of two Russian people with very different experiences of the collapse of the Soviet Union, three decades ago. Set in 1999 in abandoned Pyramiden - once a model communist town, built on land leased from Norway on the Arctic island of Svalbard - Nightlands imagines an encounter between Sasha, a man of around 60 who has lived in Pyramiden for decades, and Slava, a young woman sent by the Russian government to work at a security and wildlife monitoring station there.

The play’s aim is to contrast Slava’s relatively positive acceptance of the collapse of communism with Sasha bitter’s resistance, gradually modulating from a genuine faith in communism, to the kind of nostalgic authoritarian nationalism that is now fuelling Russian aggression in Ukraine. And if MacGregor’s narrative finally becomes blurred by questions about how far Sasha and Slava are different people at all, Matthew Zajac and Rebecca Wilkie sustain the passionate intensity of their performances to the end, in a hugely ambitious and promising play, on a subject that could hardly be more topical, in 2022.