Lost Laowais is the debut play of actor/writer David East, inspired by his own experiences living in China. A love letter to one of Asia’s largest metropolises, it follows the intertwining lives of four expats in Beijing.
The word ‘expat’ is loaded. It carries many connotations, preconceptions, and calls to mind a set of assumptions about class, education and privilege. But what makes one person an expat, and another a foreign worker or migrant? Anxiety about immigration is what propels a great deal of the current political landscape and Lost Laowais broaches the subject of viewpoints, along with the colonial impact on China, where the legacy of imperialism remains.
The language around migration can seek to dehumanise, but East has successfully created fully developed, relatable characters. Siu-See Hung particularly stands out as a vibrant Lisa, as does Waylon Luke Ma as diplo-brat Ollie; both struggling with the assumption that looking Chinese means being able to speak Chinese. Joseph Wilkins gives a sensitive performance as celebrated writer Robert, a bachelor who is still struggling to assimilate even after 20 years in the capital, and a lot of humour comes from East’s portrayal of awkward Westerner Julian. Charlotte Chiew also does an impressive job of playing numerous characters throughout the piece; her loud and unruly waitress being a particular highlight.
Erin Guan’s basic set design means technical issues are often exposed, especially during the transitions, however this doesn’t detract massively from what is happening on stage. Director Tian Brown-Sampson has an obvious love for China, which shines through the production. Through her delicate direction, Lost Laowais explores the politics of identity and belonging in the current Chinese landscape, and poses the question, what is the true meaning of home?
Lost Laowais runs at the Network Theatre as part of the VAULTS Festival until the 9th February.