Theatre reviews: Made in China | Kissing Linford Christie

Made in China offers a persuasive vision of how the lives of women can coincide despite the huge social and geographical distances, writes Joyce McMillan

Made In China, Oran Mor, Glasgow ****

Kissing Linford Christie, Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh ****

In a sense, it’s a familiar 21st century urban legend. Most of us have seen the tabloid tales of people who find a note hidden in one of the endless packages of manufactured goods we import from China; often a cry for help, or a desperate plea to publicise terrible working conditions.

Made in China PIC: Tommy Ga-Ken WanMade in China PIC: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
Made in China PIC: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

In Made In China, Alice Clark’s debut play for A Play, a Pie, and a Pint, though, the story is given a brand new twist, as Janet – at home in Wishaw and desperately online shopping for the perfect string of fairy lights for her daughter’s 16th birthday – discovers that the box contains not a letter, but a scribbled account of a household monthly budget, for a single mother and her teenage daughter.

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Meanwhile, on the other half of the stage – and at the opposite end of the same cluttered table – we see Hui Ting, a production line worker in the Chinese fairy lights factory, desperately trying to navigate the strict disciplinary system of the company, and to earn enough of a bonus - after years of hard work and saving – to set up a business of her own. It’s the sheer drama of Hui Ting’s situation that drives the narrative of Clark’s play, up to the point where the stories of the two women suddenly collide, in a moment – for Janet, at least – of horrified realisation.

In Philip Howard’s perfectly-paced production, full of movement and dynamism, as well as powerful entwined monologues, Jo Freer and Amber Lin deliver two superb performances as Janet and Hue Ting, both women of their time, living under pressure without their partners, who never lose their sense of humour while striving to do their very best for their girls. The late MP Jo Cox used to say that we humans have more in common than what divides us, and this powerful play, perfectly staged, offers a persuasive and beautifully-written vision of how the lives of women can coincide, despite the huge social and geographical distances between us.

One of the great things about youth and childhood is the way our imaginations tend to leap across those distances, often fixing on distant figures – on screen, or in stories – as the people we dream of meeting, and want to become. In Victoria Beesley’s gorgeous new monologue for children of primary school age, Kissing Linford Christie, our young heroine – Beesley herself at some performances, fellow actor Ellinor Larsson at others – decides at the age of seven that her hero is the runner Linford Christie; and that one day, she will compete at the Olympics, just like him.

Despite some voice-over advice from her hero, though, the truth is that Vicky/Ellinor is not very good at athletics; moments of triumph elude her, and eventually she has to give up her dream. What emerges, though, is a gorgeous, wise and colourful show about how to find friends and build a worthwhile life without being a star; and how to find out, gradually, what your real talents are, and what makes you happy.

Vicky/Ellinor’s transition from primary to secondary school is particularly tough and complicated, offering plenty of guidance and consolation for children facing that challenging moment in their lives; and the quality of Beesley’s writing, Alysa Kalyanova’s design, and a warm and welcoming production by Rosalind Sydney and Shilpa T-Hyland, make Kissing Linford Christie a gorgeous and worthwhile experience, both for children around six to ten, and for the adults who care for them.

Made In China is at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 11-15 October, Kissing Linford Christie is at the Lyra Theatre, Edinburgh, 11 October, and on tour until 5 November,

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