FRINGEWORLD 2019: A Westerner’s Guide to the Opium Wars | 4 Stars

Review | Laura Money

Heartfelt and completely theatrical, Tabitha Woo takes you on a multiculural journey through time and landscapes in an educational piece of theatre unlike any history lesson you’ve ever had! A Westerner’s Guide to the Opium Wars sees Woo come to grips with her mixed Asian and Caucasian heritage – it is a way for her to explore, not only her own relationship with China and the ‘orient’ but also Western society. Told from multiple perspectives and allowing her own personality to shine through, Woo’s introspection raises issues of the way things are documented and how common our knowledge is of ‘other’ cultures.

Opening the show in full regalia, Woo is the young Queen Victoria – hoop skirt and all! She is struggling through a German lesson. Of course the real Victoria wouldn’t have struggled, being practically German herself and this is the point Woo is making. Everyone has a complicated heritage. What makes one English, or Australian? Is it where you were from or where you choose to live? How long do you have to be in a new place before it becomes home? Woo doesn’t purport to know the answer, but invites you to scratch the surface. 
Bringing on the sock puppet, Dragon, Woo hilariously schools us in the beginning of the opium wars and Queen Victoria’s role in them. She skilfully blends information about the Silk Road, trade, politics, and diaspora into her own family story. Her interviews with her Dad are a  beautiful reflection on identity and wisdom and her confusion surrounding cultural appropriation and her inner feelings are deep philosophical conundrums. 

A Westerner’s Guide to the Opium Wars is not necessarily what you’d expect it to be. Framed through one woman’s identity, it tackles the wider world’s obsession for fetishising Asia but also asks what makes a person? Is it the culture, the heritage, the favourite food, or love of showtunes? Tabitha Woo doesn’t quite know, but she does know how to put on a wonderfully insightful show that involves the whole community. So go on, what’s your story?

WHEN: 5 – 9 February 2019 | 6:00pm

WHERE: The Studio | The Blue Room Theatre | FRINGE CENTRAL

INFO: Tickets $18 – $26 | Duration 60m | Age suitability: All (general) | THEATRE


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