Blue Elephant Theatre 30 November – 1 December. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Yuyu Wang’s one-woman show has the potential to be an outstanding piece of theatre. As it is, The Invisible is already a beautifully written and understated examination of identity and belonging. The simple set, with only a giant paper plane on the wall that doubles as a projection screen, and minimal props – paper planes, a phone and apples – mean that Yuyu Wang is the focus of attention for the entire hour’s running time. Wang has the intensity and charisma to carry this off in spades and her magnetic performance makes it easy for the audience to invest in this story, even though the storyteller never gives the character a name.
This anonymity is the thread of the play – Wang tells of the childhood in rural China spent dreaming of leaving on an aeroplane for exciting new destinations, and then the sense of longing for home when she finally achieved her dream of settling in London.
The loneliness of living in a big city can be overwhelming for anyone, but Wang’s portrayal of the isolation and otherness felt by Asian women is palpable in this intimate setting. The reversal of meaning for her floating paper planes – as a child, she floated them as wishes, now she floats them as moments when she feels invisible – is a powerful and emotional image. The loss of family roots and ties is brought home by Wang using her phone to project her face on screen, talking about her mother’s advice sent halfway around the world. The death of her grandparents, which is too painful to keep translating into English, is simply stunning, with Wang dropping her unemotional English tones to speak in her native tongue with huge emotion that crosses language borders.
There are some passages that are a little overlong, although their purpose is clear, with Wang running back and forth to convey the daily treadmill and effort to keep afloat in an unforgiving world, but there are also some magical moments, most notably when Wang turns her camera on the audience and projects their image onto the stage as she muses on the tininess of human life in the galaxy, and the difference an interaction with the people we rush past every day could make. The boundaries between performer and audience are torn down and the questions Wang asks stay with you as you walk from the theatre.
The invisible is a hugely promising piece, which I hope will continue to evolve and find the wider audience it deserves.