Writer: Julie Tsang
Director: Jen Tan
Fables from East Asia mix with the darkest of European fairy tales in Julie Tsang’s spectral new play Fix, receiving its world premiere at the Pleasance Theatre.
The strange story of a repairman visiting a creepy house in the woods where an old woman isn’t all that she seems and the pet upstairs could be a cat, a dragon, or a hissing serpent has the marks of a classic Asian revenge movie and the sinister plot unfolds into something distinctly unsettling.
While suitably claustrophobic, the downstairs studio at the Pleasance hasn’t quite the capacity to realise all of the writer’s descriptive stage directions so many of the key horror elements depend on the vivid imagination of the audience in association with some superbly atmospheric lighting (Ali Hunter) and sound (Richard Bell).
Jen Tan’s direction cleverly picks up on tropes from East Asian horror films, such as The Vengeance trilogy and Audition, to create this psychological drama that often keeps you on the edge of your seat.
The slight downside of reflecting this style is that the precise narrative ebbs and flows and the audience is left at the end having to unpick its strands and work out what has actually happened. Plot revolutions come around again often and some ideas are replayed without taking anything any further. While this is standard on screen it doesn’t always translate to stage, leaving one with the thought that this might play out better as a radio drama or a short TV film.
What does work extremely well is a sense of being haunted by one’s past, a need to face forgotten moments in order to move on and to review perspective, though this play doesn’t explore the perhaps necessary importance of repentance and forgiveness.
Also, more subtly, is the value of honouring our ancestors and our cultures even if removed from where they were in past generations. While we are reminded regularly (through snatches of BBC radio broadcasts and the Anglicanisation of a name, for instance) that this is set in English woods, with contemporary British society reflected in the local Tesco or a remote phone box, the characters, ancient folklore and genre are undeniably East Asian.
A crucial contribution is made to this production by an outstanding performance from Tina Chiang as Li Na, the reclusive woman who has summoned the repairman to her remote house to fix her washing machine.
It is a colourful and discomfiting portrayal of someone who is constantly enigmatic, vulnerable at one moment, teasing and mischievously menacing the next. As she inscrutably relates the story of creation from Chinese mythology and tells of monstrous trees and connected roots we are never entirely sure if she is a genius loci with genuine concern for a young mortal or a more malevolent and vengeful nemesis seeking retribution for an incident which is slowly unveiled.
As Kevin, the repairman, Mikey Anthony-Howe not only portrays the seemingly innocent drawn into a web which is a living conundrum, but also accounts for himself well practically when it comes to dismantling and fixing the old washing machine and he shows promising talent.
He does seem somewhat unfairly treated by the text, which wants to punish him for something he failed to prevent rather than the perpetrators being held to account, though it is true that this fades in the wider context of stories and memories being changed and fabricated over time.
There is much to commend and savour about this play and production, which was first heard at a read-through only last year. It would be exciting to see it in the glorious and scary detail envisaged by the writer, but for now this is an intriguing drama which makes good use of the confined space.
Runs until 1 February 2020