Theatre review: White/other

By Janet McAllister

Canton uses sound, light and movement as well as speech to express her personal, subjective reality - to great effect. Photo / Apiwat Singharach
Canton uses sound, light and movement as well as speech to express her personal, subjective reality - to great effect. Photo / Apiwat Singharach

As the audience enters, a blonde woman drums along to an instrumental loop from Bowie's China Girl. It's a surprising, clever start to this clever solo show about the way performer Alice Canton experiences having one white and one Chinese parent.

An assured, strong presence with a wonderfully clear voice, Canton uses sound, light and movement as well as speech to express her personal, subjective reality - to great effect.
We see the process of making theatre onstage.

Listing racist remarks and restrictive stereotypes may seem simplistic at first, but this is mere preparation for some smart theatrics.

How those micro-aggressions collectively disturb the calm routines and certainties of everyday life is deftly portrayed using sound loops and live editing. Both Te Aihe Butler's remarkable sound design and operation are integral to the show (directed by Holly Chappell and Tom Eason).

Rather than being merely poetic, the short script comes across as hard-edge poetry. Repeating not rhyming, the poems are made with Canton's dancing body as well as her matter-of-fact voice.

Both problematic and positive patterns build up, only to be disrupted. The result is a series of often-wonderful moments ingeniously constructed into a cohesive and well-shaped whole.

Canton mentions an ideal of community harmony that neither discriminates nor idealises any ethnicity - but pleasingly, she doesn't let herself or her audience off the hook by stopping there.

Still, a bout of histrionics seems rather jarring and not particularly effective; a performer having to work up to tears every night to perform her own frustration for an audience's edification seems forced. Anger - such as that in the Auckland Festival's Tar Baby - seems less self-exploitative when deliberately discomforting an audience.

But White/Other's ending is excellent: surreal, open, surprising and - yet again - clever.

Recommended for those interested in original theatre construction as well as those interested in what it's like for Canton to go through life when she never knows how her ethnicity will be perceived.

What: White/Other
Where & when: Basement Theatre, to April 21
Reviewer: Janet McAllister

- NZ Herald

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