Something There That's Missing

Tue 6th – Sat 24th August 2013

reviews

Joshua Adcock

at 22:03 on 16th Aug 2013

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With a name as ambiguous as 'Something There That’s Missing', you might reasonably expect a play of personal introspection with a floaty, vague impression of importance. You might also reasonably be somewhat cautious of such a play. What you might not expect is a play with a broadly allegorical plot and lacking in energy or import. Well, this play is both of those things, more or less.

Concerning the trials of a newly London-dwelling Canadian émigré, Joy, the play is, sadly, full of self-involved navel-gazing and lacks anything cogent to say. This is because, problematically, it seems to be an autobiographical play about a character trying to write an autobiographical play, and struggling to do so. Having the subject of a play so close to the subject of reality creates the problem of being unable to distinguish between what’s artistically worthy content and what’s just a dioramic representation of a real life story. Finding that the most apt material for such a play is the struggle to write a script worthy of the London stage, the play struggles along for its fifty minute run, skipping between a writing desk and the play-in-progress, without really developing any action. Poorly structured and with questionable timing and lighting changes, the play fails to achieve its intended effects, most of the time.

Though colourful and well-meaning, the play within-a-play which comes close to getting cut is, in the real world, paper-thin and bizarre; pantomimic but lacking in charm, it lopes along with the rest of the play, childish and surreal but without any impact.

However, the script isn’t entirely without artistic merit; some themes in fact are developed, particularly the conflict between the fear of failure and the desire to strive and, well, seize the day. Yet these ideas are lacking in exploration and ultimately without serious intellectual merit.

There are moments of humour, radiating primarily from the pre-recorded Skype conversations with Joy’s mother, and her overbearing manner in expressing care for her daughter. Yet the humour really didn’t quite fit, as the piece lacked the requisite levity elsewhere to be able to carry off the shifts of tone present at these moments.

Mediocre acting prevailed throughout, with the exception of Siu-See Hung, who at least had energy and enthusiasm, and performed well in the parts she was cast in. You could say that the show is a bit like Russian dolls: there’s nothing actually inside. Best described as pretty broadly allegorical, 'Something There That’s Missing' is missing something, and that thing is substance.

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Suzanne Duffy

at 22:50 on 16th Aug 2013

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‘Something There’s That’s Missing’ is a play about self-discovery so it is unfortunate that the main character, Joy (Anh Chu, also the writer), doesn’t have anything interesting to discover about herself. The first generation Chinese-Canadian moves to London to write, but as her self-confidence shrinks, the audience sees what goes on inside her head. A Barbie doll represents her inner voice, while the characters in her writing, including an orange hippo, act out their story.

Rather than making a decision between spending money or keeping it pared down, director Lydia Parker has chosen an awkward middle course by having a screen for the Barbie doll to appear over the top of, but also having Julie Cheung-Inhin run around stage working the hippo puppet. I appreciate that Po is a surreal character, but neither he nor the rest of the cast are engaging enough to suspend disbelief at the fact that there is an orange hippo puppet with an English accent being operated by a girl who is perfectly visible. Why an orange hippo anyway?

The best thing about the play is Joy’s Skype conversations with her mother, who is convinced that writing, particularly in London, is a waste of time. Yet the audience senses that there is no real conflict between mother and daughter and that ultimately they love each other. This leaves writer’s block as the major antagonist of the production, and writing a play about writer’s block seems counter-intuitive. As I watched Joy procrastinate by napping, drinking coffee and snacking I realised I could just have stayed at home and done the same thing myself. It is not that Chu’s acting is bad, in fact she plays the role well, but the role itself is limited and mundane.

The scenes in which Joy’s writing comes to life should animate the play, but while Siu-See Hung is convincingly cute as the ten year old Mei Li, the weight of absurdity that fails either to be humorous or interesting, crushes her attempt. There is a twist of sorts but it further confuses the play and doesn’t banish the feeling that a playwright writing a play about writing a play has to be far cleverer than this in order not to appear self-indulgent.

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