Edinburgh Fringe: Two from Taiwan, Shinehouse Theatre and Chou Kuan-Jou

Summerhall, Edinburgh
August 18, 2022

Shinehouse Theatre: The Whisper of the Waves

Shinehouse Theatre (曉劇場) from Taipei make a welcome return to Summerhall and the Taiwan Season at the Edinburgh Fringe with Whisper of the Waves (潮來之音), an affecting, poetic delve into love, loneliness and human existence. The show’s key question is, if disaster were to strike, what would you do and who could you turn to? As we seek answers, text, mostly in the form of monologues and self-reflexive interviews comes with dashes of humour, Greek mythology, dance and physical theatre to create an engaging hour.

The opening and closing movement sections embody the ocean waves of the title. Heads down, bodies roll back and forth like water breaking on the shore. The sound of tide that we hear will soon become the sound of tears.

The work is very, very stylish and has a lovely pace and rhythm. Delivery is largely quiet but somehow that only serves to ramp up the depth and intensity.

Shinehouse Theatre in The Whisper of the Waves
Photo Terry Lin

The style of delivery may draw on the traditional, but the subjects are very contemporary. As it wrestles with various issues, among the characters met are a lonely taxi driver on a busy Hanoi street and his beloved pot plant, and a same-sex couple debating the merits of surrogate parenting, as they pick up the pieces from a major disaster. Elsewhere it touches on extinction in the natural world. The does work meanders around but while individual section could stand happily on its own, there are just enough connections to make a coherent whole.

Blindfolded performers speak for the characters, voicing their thoughts and feelings. It’s a device that neatly allows each character to listen to themself, to observe and probe themself. Alongside, other cast members compliment, illustrate and illuminate the subject and their tale through mime and movement. The work’s strength very much lies in its deeply thoughtful words (the idea that the abyss itself is not frightening, it’s the monsters that lurk in it that are the issue, being just one such notion you are left to ponder) and the super performers, however.

Cleverly, director and writer Zhong Bo-yuan (鍾伯淵) and the cast sow seeds of thought that are sometimes watered, but sometimes left for us to muse upon ourselves. At times, it does have a feeling of unfathomability. The Whisper of the Waves is certainly a piece that encourages self-reflection and contemplation.

The Whisper of the Waves is at Summerhall to August 28, 2022. Visit tickets.edfringe.com for tickets.

Chou Kuan-Jou: Tomato

Tomato by Chou Kuan-jou
Photo Lucas Kao

“How to choose tomatoes…” starts a voiceover at the beginning of Tomato by Chou Kuan-jou (周寬柔). As a man takes one from a tank of fruit (some real, some plastic) and examines it, we are told to look for shape, plumpness, firm flesh, and the right number of leaves. Stage right, a robed Chou squeezes her own buttock. Tomato juice is sucked. Subtlety is not the show’s strong point!

If you hadn’t already guessed what was coming, the 30 minutes or so that follows is an exploration of sexuality. There are moments of pleasure as an intense itch is scratch, and hints of violence as man rolls towards Chou, laid on the floor, a dress pulled over her head.

More disturbing is the use of a knife, pushed and slid along her thigh. Presumably she’s trying to illustrate that fine line between pain and sexual pleasure, but it’s difficult not to link the scene with darker issues of self-harm. Later, she squirts from a water spray put between her legs. Whether it’s crude, funny or both depends on your point of view.

Elsewhere there’s a strange and seemingly unconnected section with a roving tomato-cam that gets close ups of a few audience members before it ends with a semi-nude (why stop halfway?) tomato fight, fruit and juice flying everywhere (beware if you are at the front).

Tomato certainly has its playful moments as Chou casts her eye over her subjects. It’s also provocative, although nothing like as much today as in the past. Some of it is very funny, some is not and some leaves one unsure, talking of which it’s far from clear whether she actually comes to any conclusions. As a whole, it does still feel like a collection of ideas still to find full form. That may or may not come. Still, it’s an interesting, certainly different show by a young creator; and definitely one that will provoke debate. And that’s no bad thing, and part of what the Fringe is all about.

Tomato is at Summerhall to August 28, 2022. Click here for tickets.