Blog | ‘MISSING’ IN CHINA – Part 7

After the workshop we are invited by some of the students and the teacher to dinner. We say yes. Mrs Song and Lincoln take us to a beautiful Cantonese place, where they teach us how to wash our plates and cutlery with tea, as is Cantonese tradition. Mrs Song is a vegetarian – Solene is over the moon, finally a Chinese guide to veggie food. The food we eat is up there with the best we’ve had in China. Solene eats like a queen. I think it’s probably in my top 10 meals of all time, and it makes me fall in love with Chinese food again. We learn a little bit more about Chinese theatre. It is very clear that MISSING and the entire Edinburgh Showcase, of which we are a part, is pretty far from the norm in China.

Crystal and Mr Yuan who selected MISSING in Edinburgh in 2013 are revolutionaries in the Chinese touring network. They are passionate about introducing new ideas and new forms of expression to Chinese audiences and I think they are doing something really special here. Later I ask Crystal, “What are you looking for when you select work in Edinburgh?” She looks me straight in the eye and with complete confidence she says, “We only book the best. It can be in any form, but it must be the best”. I think of Tim Crouch, I think of Paper Cinema, I think of 1927 and I can see what she means…

A photo of a cityscape in the evening covered with fog. Various coloured lights glow through the smog.

After dinner on the walk home, I see a dog hanging in the doorway of the butchers. China is constantly surprising.

The shows in Shenzhen are hard work. Laura (who has been working with Gecko for the better part of 4 years) is moving on and so she has been teaching her track to Emma. It’s a tough ask on the road: the whole company is required for stage management calls – its a wonderful opportunity for the performers to get some notes off me and each other and it allows us to go over moments a-fresh. Emma is picking up the show really quickly, as well as the get in and out requirements, and the rehearsals move smoothly. We always rehearse on the road with Gecko, but China has been a chance for us to look again at the way the stage management and the performers work as one. The first show in Shenzhen is clunky, the rhythm is off, backstage haven’t quite tuned into the overall flow of the piece, that is totally understandable and the audience wouldn’t have noticed, but we do.

It’s amazing how connected the company must be for this show to work. If anyone is out of sync it is excruciating to watch. I regularly find myself diving behind chairs and hiding during the show just because there is a beat slightly off. It’s even worse for Amit as he lives every second of the show when he watches it.

The post-show talk in Shenzhen is once again really good – excellent questions and brilliant perspectives on the show. I think we will all remember a very well spoken 11-year-old asking us questions about the languages and about what it’s like to have parents who argue. He also asked Francois, “Is the healer for real or is he mental?” A great question. Of course we didn’t give him an answer but let him decide…

After the show the boy’s 7-year-old little sister asked me, in a really inquisitive way, “What are we meant to learn from this story?” I asked what she thought. “I think I learned that if mum and dad argue then it’s probably not my fault.” Amazing.

Various performers sit at a table inside a frame, illuminated by purple light.

In Shenzhen I finally pluck up the courage to visit the legendary Chinese massage parlour, a few of us have heard that there was a good place in town and so we went for it. It was a very strange experience. We were greeted at the door by Natasha who looked like one of the post-apocalyptic bourgeois characters from The Hunger Games. She talked us through how everything works, then we were sent off into this strange cave of decadence, showers and saunas and hot tubs and all sorts first, then through to an epic bar where everyone was in PJ’s after.

This is a 24-hour operation on an huge scale. We’re hassled quite a bit as we get changed – everyone in the building seems to be working for tips. It’s all a bit weird if I’m honest, there is definitely an undertone of less savoury ‘options’ available to clients but we felt safe in our stripey PJ’s. The massage itself is excellent and as always I have a little snooze. Roz, Chris and Solene go for more physical experiences – more physiotherapy than relaxation. Solene has a terrible time, Chris has an amazing time and Roz is broken, officially. Afterwards the three of them look like they have been asleep for the winter and they have awoken fresh for a new year. For two days Roz can hardly move, which is very funny.

Shenzhen is also home to possibly the world’s best hot chocolate. As a hot choc lover I can tell you now that I am not easily impressed, but if you ever find yourself in the vicinity of an “Awfully Chocolate” store get the hot chocolate. It’s amazing. Later in the week we walk 30 minutes across the city to get another one…

I like Shenzhen, there is a buzz to it like Shanghai but it isn’t quite as grown up and grand (yet) and nowhere near as culturally interesting. But as a place to study human behaviour I bet it’s up there with the most fascinating. Being in the sunshine and around some trees is also a very welcome relief.


A photo of Rich Rusk.

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