Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Janet (Jo Freer) lives in Wishaw, near Glasgow. Her daughter Tash’s birthday is fast approaching and Janet is frantically trying to procure the weird selection of fripperies Tash says she simply ‘has to have’ if her party is to be a success. When she demands some novelty lights in the shape of… er, aubergines, who is Janet to argue with her? She obligingly opens the Amazon app and clicks through her order.
Meanwhile, in China, Hui Ting (Amber Lin) is working long shifts at a factory, where such dubious items are produced and packaged, before being shipped all around the world. She has much to contend with, struggling to meet her targets and constantly being fined for trivial matters – even, in one case, for having her period at an inconvenient time. But she has a powerful motive for working around the clock: she doesn’t want her daughter to end up in the same position.
And then Janet discovers a scrap of paper in her latest order, something that Hui Ting has scribbled in a rare free moment and accidentally dropped into the box. Janet decides that she needs to find out what the note means. It takes her a while but, once she has an answer, she’s compelled to reappraise the way she lives her own life…
Made in China is a deceptively simple two-hander, the latest offering from A Play, a Pie and a Pint. On a stage festooned with cardboard boxes, the women appear to work side-by-side, their lives intertwined, even though they never interact. Playwright Alice Clark cleverly draws out the fascinating parallels between the two, and shows the kind of ripple effect that can be initiated by even the most innocuous form of Western consumerism. Both Freer and Lin make their characters utterly believable. I love Janet’s snarky, self-deprecating tone and I love too that Hui Ting is not presented as saintly, but as somebody who has her own agenda and is quite prepared to bend the rules in order to achieve her goals.
Clark’s eloquently written play alternates between harsh reality and the enduring allure of dreams. Philip Howard’s direction brings this prescient piece to a satisfying conclusion. As polemics go, it’s one of the best I’ve seen in quite a while.