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Theatre review: I ME SHE HIM 你和我和她和他, Bluestone Church Arts Space

The first English adaptation of Stan Lai’s 1998 play retains its cultural nuances and asks how we can reconcile with our past.
I ME SHE HIM Image is two Chinese young women sitting next to each other, both with long dark hair, one in a white trouser suit, the other in white trousers and blue shirt.

How do we move on after losing sight of who we used to be? Worse yet, what happens when we become the kind of people we used to despise? In I ME SHE HIM 你和我和她和他, Jing (Lansy Feng) and More (Enoch Li) navigate these treacherous waters when the past clings on (literally) and the future has closed its doors.

Set in Hong Kong in the late 1990s, I ME SHE HIM is a story of love and rebellion grounded in the sociopolitical context of straining tension between Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China.

Jing, the daughter of a Taiwanese magnate with entrepreneurial wit, meets her opponent More at the business negotiation table. A self-made success who proclaims he has earned his fair share of wealth and respect, More is a caricature of new Chinese wealth – plumped up on foreign delicacies with the arrogance of someone used to getting things their way. Both Jing and More bear no more than a shadow of resemblance to their younger selves. So, when shared memories start to resurface with the help of the ghostly presence of teenage Jing and More, the two are struck with the dilemma of rekindling their romance versus dealing with the business at hand.

Taiwanese playwright and director Stan Lai’s script presents an intriguing framework that underscores the chaotic tangle between past and present by creating parallel timelines on stage for the actors. This heartfelt struggle is delivered with strength and clarity by Feng and Li, alongside Angel Xiao and Berlin Lu, who played the younger versions of the protagonists.

Lai’s English-translation version of the play, presented for the first time by Wit Inc, successfully captures the cultural nuance of his original 1998 story. While the script is predominantly in English, Chinese Mandarin and Cantonese phrases are skilfully interwoven into the dialogue, providing enough resonance with diaspora communities while avoiding gaps in understanding for English-speaking ones with just the right amount of context clues. It’s a prime example – and reassurance – that there doesn’t need to be a trade-off between broader audience reach and authenticity.

Set designer Riley Tapp and lighting designer Oliver Ross have done a superb job in transforming Bluestone Church Arts Space, with the effective use of props and neon signs that seamlessly lead audiences across multiple settings. Paired with the work by sound designer and tech manager Jarman Oakley, I ME SHE HIM presents a theatrical experience that is polished and in-sync without needing to be extravagant.

The flair of the supporting actors is a highlight in itself. Rebekah Lin’s Miss Sun embodies the fiery character with just the right amount of calculated cattiness, while Jing’s cousin, Junior, fits William Xu like a twin. Despite being unthreatening and puppy-like for most of the play, a slight plot twist for Junior’s character is handled aptly by Xu. Kudos also to Eldon Huang, who plays multiple hospitality and service attendants in the show, each with distinctive qualities that either elicit laughs whenever he is on stage or provoke sympathy for his struggles. Though with only a short stage presence, the multi-talented but dispirited alcoholic, Mao Mao, played by James Lau, is perhaps a symbol of the times – his anguish towards the country is interspersed with sparks of optimism in the face of youthful love shared between the teenaged Jing and More.

One potential area of improvement in I ME SHE HIM is perhaps an intimacy director to help clear up some of the hesitation and visible unease in a crucial scene between Jing and More. While this may be attributed to their internal struggle between doing the “right thing” and following their hearts, the awkwardness is slightly too stark to overlook.

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I ME SHE HIM has ignited in this reviewer a flame of hope regarding the growing talent of diaspora creatives that are bringing non-English works to Australia’s audiences with drive and strength. Regardless of whether one is familiar with contemporary Chinese history or the cultural context of the story, I ME SHE HIM is a riveting reminder to slow down and look back at how far we have come – and to cherish the people that are still with us today, including our younger selves.

I ME SHE HIM 你和我和她和他 by Stan Lai 賴聲川
Presented by Wit Incorporated
Translator: Stan Lai
Director: Ren Ruidi
Translation Editor and Dramaturg: Lissa Tyler Renaud
Set Designer: Riley Tapp
Sound Designer: Jarman Oakley
Lighting Designer: Oliver Ross
Peking Opera Coach and Movement Coordinator: Fini Liu
Cultural Consultant: Wilson Yeung Chun Wai

Cast: Enoch Li, Lansy Feng, Berlin Lu, Angel Xiao, Rebekah Lin, William Xu, James Lau and Eldon Huang

I ME SHE HIM 你和我和她和他 was performed at Bluestone Church Arts Space from 22-25 November and will present another season at The Bowery Theatre from 1-2 December; tickets $20-25.

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. Most recently she took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne.