Nick Le Mesurier reviews May Utang at the Shop Front Theatre, Coventry
May Utang is the first in a series of new works produced at Coventry’s Shopfront Theatre. Each performance in this year-long project will address complex questions of identity from many perspectives. At the heart of the series is the question, first posed by Henry David Thoreau: Are we where we are? In these days of fake news, entrenched if often ill-founded beliefs about race, justice, inclusion and so on, it is an important question.
This genre defying performance was written and performed by Jules Orcullo. Part talking head, part auto-ethnography, her story takes us on a moving and thought provoking journey through her own experiences and reflections on what it means to be regarded as an alien in her own country.
Jules Utang is Australian writer and performer of Filipino origin. Her parents worked hard to establish themselves in a racist culture and to find an identity for themselves there, a struggle which she has inherited, even though she was born close to the Sydney Opera House, one of the most iconic parts of the Australasian continent. Racism is the warp to the weft of cultural identity, underlying and cross-cutting more explicitly open attitudes as well as the stereotypes we’re all familiar with.
At the heart of this thematically rich and often funny performance was her evocation of her debts of gratitude, first to her parents for their sacrifices and devotion to her welfare, second to Australia, and by extension to any dominant culture that ‘takes in’ immigrants and expects them to conform but never quite allows them to do so. That’s a much more complex phenomenon, and not at all confined to Australia.
* The next show in the series is on 7 June: I am Here, written and performed by Laila Alj. Visit http://www.theatreabsolute.co.uk/shop-front-theatre for details.