In the Bag
Wang Xiaoli, in a version by Ronan O'Donnell
Traverse Theatre Company
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Part of the Traverse Theatre's Playwrights in Partnership project, In The Bag is a story about modern-day life in Beijing - a life which, aside from a few comments about dumplings and terracotta warriors, looks suspiciously like life in any other modern metropolis.
Ronan O'Donnell's translation is sharp and witty, painfully human, and tinted with desperation. A woman (Tuyet Le), her ex-lover (Daniel York), his younger brother (Mo Zainal), and the brother's wife (Michelle Macerlean) move through dysfunctional relationships with one another. Each is looking for a way of finding a place for themselves, and each has given up dreams to wind up where they are - not that where any of them is seems to make them particularly happy.
Xiaoli does an excellent job of contrasting the major and minor dysfunctions of each relationship - while the woman and her ex have arguments that escalate to shouting almost every time they try to converse, the younger brother and his wife suffer from a more profound sense of tension. Ultimately the joys and agonies of each relationship, evidencing themselves over and over again, create pictures of two very human sets of people.
Although it's used only once, Peter Anderson's video projection is cleverly used when the brothers play pool with one another - credit also to York and Zainal who, for the most part, keep pace with both intense dialogue and what must be difficult choreography.
Director Lorne Campbell does a wonderful job of helping the actors find the rhythm and pace of each scene. In The Bag is a play which consists of people sitting around talking about their issues with one another, and it would have been easy for the piece to be very televisual. However, Campbell's direction of the actors helps to maintain a sense of theatricality, helped immensely by the sharp, sleek spaces created by Jon Bausor's design.
What makes In The Bag stand out from other, homegrown modern relationship dramas is that it does provide an insight, however small, into what it means to move in affluent circles in China today. Comments made by the characters on what is expected of women in relationships, or how one character studies the apparently useless subject of Hindi at university in order to get permission to move to the city, portray a life most audience members will find completely foreign.
Surprising, then, that despite these differences in background, the characters in In The Bag actually are quite similar to characters found in modern-day dramas from English-speaking countries, seemingly indicating that in today's homogenous world, even if we all come from different backgrounds, we're all headed toward similar goals, relationships, conflicts, and disappointments. Happily, as far as disappointments are concerned, seeing In The Bag won't be numbered among them.
Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody