Hidden in the bustling bar of Novotel Edinburgh Central, the audience surrounds the three actors of Citizens of Nowhere? as if we’re all there separately to simply enjoy a drink: the only indicator that it’s a show are the earphones everyone is wearing. The delicious naughtiness of feeling like you are eavesdropping on the actors adds an extra layer of enjoyment to the play, as well as providing a fitting setting for such a personal exploration of British-Chinese identity.
Citizens of Nowhere? addresses complex questions regarding the relationships between identity, roots and belonging, questions that are highly relevant in our increasingly global, mobile communities. The play revolves around a mother – played compellingly by Pik Sen Lim – meeting two of her children at the bar to discuss a possible move back to her childhood home Hong Kong, a place she barely remembers but attaches an acute sense of belonging to.
The intergenerational dialogue that develops between Lim and her children (Jennifer Lim and Siu Hun Li) serves as a microcosm to explore British-Chinese identity and the challenges of embracing such an identity fully. Through the family’s real-time conversation, important themes such as authenticity, the importance of heritage, and the erasure of part of your identity in order to belong are examined in a sensitive, thought-provoking way. The portrayal of two siblings leading very different lives is especially poignant, as Jennifer Lim and Li’s childish bickering eventually gives way to acceptance and reconciliation.
The play feels very immediate, not only due to the intimate, real-world setting but also because of references to current events such as the Hong Kong riots and the Edinburgh Fringe itself. Such references highlight the relevance of the content, especially discussion of roots and home and how these combine to create a sense of belonging. The importance of staying authentic and not erasing any of your identity is delivered with sharp clarity by Li, whose derision towards his sister’s plans to become a Conservative MP calls into question whether British-Chinese people can find a sense of belonging while remaining authentic.
Citizens of Nowhere? offers significant social commentary by giving a voice to British-Chinese identity through the arts, an area where this community is distinctly underrepresented. A highly personal and intimate production, the play uses familial relationships to communicate the increasingly complicated nature of identity in a relevant and authentic way, holding a mirror to the divisive forces that threaten our increasingly multicultural society.
Citizens of Nowhere? is on at Sweet Novotel
At 14:00 and 16:00 until 25th August
Book tickets here
Image: Ikum Yum