Arts Centre Melbourne Presents SAIGON
When young French director Caroline Guiela Nguyen's SAIGON premiered at Avignon Festival in 2017, it quickly became the most sought after ticket at the world's largest theatre festival.
SAIGON tells the story of heartbreak and longing the Vietnamese people experienced when torn between France and their homeland when French colonial rule collapsed in the wake of military humiliation at the hands of the nationalists and communists of the Via??t Minh at the Battle of Đia??n Biên Pha??.
"The play is framed by two dates; 1956, the first year of post-independence Vietnam, and 1996, the year of François Mitterrand's death, the first French President ever to visit Vietnam in its modern history," Nguyen says. "This time frame is also important as it represents the 40 years before the Vietnamese political exiles or economic immigrants were given the right to return," she continues.
Nguyen spent two years gathering stories in the 13th arrondissement in Paris and Ha?" Chí Minh City to create this compelling drama, which has provoked audiences the world over into tearful standing ovations. This play was inspired by the interviews she conducted with many Vietnamese immigrants and those who stayed behind.
"We had to cross our own borders, and go looking for faces all the way to Vietnam. I don't want speeches about people, I want the people themselves, their faces, their landscapes, their bodies, their languages. People are the reason why I start writing; like the first time I realised my mother speaks a version of Vietnamese that no longer exists because she was forced to leave her country when she was 11 and speaks the language of a stateless person.
"There's always someone to mourn, and our show is about finding this journey of tears again. There is in Ha?" Chí Minh City a permanent presence of nostalgia and pain, probably because it is a wounded city with its own ghost, Saigon," she says.
Told in French and Vietnamese, the play takes place in a Vietnamese restaurant in Paris in 1996. Some of the 11 actors are Vietnamese and others French but all are haunted by a world that no longer exists.
"Ha?" Chí Minh City is full of stories of departure, of exile; it is full of people who are missing in their own families, and it is that absence that creates fiction," she says.
Nguyen has been described as "one of the most talented directors of her generation" by Anne-Mathilde Di Tomaso, director of the production at the Avignon Festival. After directing several classic texts, Nguyen realised that some stories, voices and people were missing from theatre stages.
Compared to Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love, SAIGON is both epic in scale and heart-rending in its intimacy - it is a rare work of universal theatre that speaks across cultures.