Wednesday 8th May 2019 at Harrogate Theatre.
‘Does nature or nurture most influence a person’s identity? What makes you, you?’ Naomi Sumner Chan’s new play poses such questions to both her audience and herself, but as this play illustrates with intelligence and feeling, answers are many and complex.
Same Same Different is a verbatim work taken from the stories of adoptees of all ages from all around the world. Directed by Alyx Tole and inspired by Chan’s own experiences as a Trans-racial adoptee, the play takes an interesting shape as we watch the fictionalised re-enactment of Chan’s process up to this point. Houmi Miura leads as Naomi and we see her taking copious notes and talking her own experiences over with a dramaturg in between snippets of her interviews with various adoptees and their families. Her probing questions and insightful answers from the interviewees give us a rare and brutally honest view of adoption as opposed to a rose-tinted bubble of ‘a new life’ or ‘chance of a better life’.
Chan’s play looks at adoption through a lense of unfiltered realism, showing us a side of adoption which we generally don’t see: the alienation adoptees feel within loving families irrespective of how open to discussion of adoption that family is. The show isn’t concerned with adoption stories or harpooning the adoption process. Instead, it looks at the realities of adopting from other cultures and placing those children within communities in which they are singular and ‘other’. It’s a contemplation of the impact of adoption on the individual’s sense of self and this need for exploration becomes particularly acute when a Trans-racial adoption takes place.
Tea flows, nibbles arrive and our adoptees and their families share their thoughts with uninhibited honesty. A versatile cast carry the production with a relaxed ease, slipping in and out of various brief roles to tell a selection of stories from Chan’s research and interviews. Paula Henstock brings a nervous wisdom to parental characters while Stefan Gumbs positively shines when playing a particularly adorable young adoptee with impressive credibility.
Duggal Ram provides thoughtful gravitas as dramaturg and gives great insight as an adoptee who shares his experiences in contemplative detail. Kettreya Scheurer-Smith is a particularly dynamic force within the cast, giving great performances spanning a comically charismatic child and an affectionately nervous mum, slipping into each role with a natural ease but bringing distinction to each.
It’s great to see verbatim theatre staged so well here. Irene Jade’s set is economical and entirely in keeping with the conversational, almost therapeutic tone of the piece while Dan Pyle’s Sound design and composition keeps the frequent transitions light and fluid. The classic verbatim trope of video design is provided by Osian Griffiths but it never dominates, only ever illustrates that there are many more individuals like those we meet in this play. It’s a cohesively staged piece which ensures that the segmented nature of the action remains engaging.
Adoption is not vilified though it does get a reality check here. Chan is looking for a mirror. Along with other adoptees, Chan is looking to find a sense of self beyond her family unit. There are some moving and heart-warming moments nestled within interviews with very young adoptees which tout the familiar praise for adoption. But it’s a fascinating piece which looks beyond the facts and the framed family portraits to the individual within that picture who may not have arrived into the scene. It’s about how they see themselves in relation to their families and their communities and it’s in this contemplation of identity that Chan’s play finds its depth and draw.
Same Same Different is presented by Eclipse, York Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre. It is produced by Benedict Power and plays at Harrogate Theatre until 8th May 2019 – you can find tickets here.
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