Made In China – Traverse Theatre

Written by Alice Clark

Directed by Philip Howard

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Everything we send into the world reverberates back into our lives in one way or another; Janet never thought it would arrive in a box of ornate Aubergines. In Wishaw, Janet struggles with the everyday pressures of, well, everyday life. To make it worse, it’s her daughter’s sixteenth birthday and no matter how hard the single mother is trying, things just don’t match her daughter’s expectations.

Meanwhile: 15-hour days, 92-hour weeks, and pittance pay. This is the life Hui Ting is leading in a factory in China, a factory in which these bizarre, relentlessly pointless baubles, trinkets, and ‘needs’ are made, packed, and shipped at the leisure of a Western consumer base who take no thought to the anguish which goes into making their latest plaything. Alice Clark’s production asks a rather simplistic question; what’s the cost of these cheap trinkets we buy online?

Echoing through the world, injustice and reality present themselves wherever you are. Clark’s well-written Made in China stamps a firm reminder that despite preconceptions, despite differences, the idiom rings true – this really is a small world after all.

Gemma Patchett and Jonny Scott’s dual-split staging offers a quite literal divide between Hui Ting and Janet from the offset: One section of the stage is done-up like a mid-2000s kitchen, and the other comprised of stacks and stacks of cardboard boxes. Effective elements are restrictive in the movement for the pair – pushing most of the performance into a thrust-forward use of the space and largely down to projection and annunciation rather than physical movements. 

What emerges is two monologues which begin to interweave, and though Jo Freer is handed Lion’s share of Clark’s comedic writing on paper, praise be to them for slowly unfurling the character’s stresses and eventual hurt at what befalls her. It slips, quite purposefully, into a more melodramatic performance which offsets the more stoic presence of Amber Lin.

Lin, who still finds little snippets of grim humour in their situation, channels reserved desperation in their voice – one forged of resolve. The intensity of Hui Ting’s life is the driving force of the narrative and the tightest part of this compact production. Their presence is immediate – from the repetitious tasks to the underplayed performance which flickers with an intense longing and determination.

The weakest, or rather diluted aspect of Clark’s script comes from the lack of agency or uncertainty of what to do after presenting this reality. No one in the audience is unaware of the West’s avaricious craving for material trinkets but Made in China leaves this fact at the audiences’ feet – unsure of what to say after it serves this unfortunate truth. There’s a twist, one which you may spot earlier on, but still a welcome advancement of the drama. 

In the same breath, is it the responsibility of this production to answer the seemingly unanswerable? Or is Clark’s focus on the humanity of it all – the hands who craft these baubles and throw-away charms? Suppositions lay with the latter, and it’s evident from the stellar performances that this is where intentions reside. Made in China cannot satiate the covetous beast which resides in Western consumerist habits, but it’s a damn fine start at unearthing the human cost of it.

Stellar Performances

Made in China runs at the Traverse Theatre until October 15th.

Tickets for which may be obtained here.

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