Since French director Caroline Guiela Nguyen premiered Saigon at the 2017 Avignon Festival – the largest theatre festival in the world – the show has toured Europe and picked up numerous awards. This year, the heartfelt epic about displacement, longing and unconditional love makes its Australian debut.
One of the centerpiece works of Asia TOPA, Melbourne’s summer-long performing arts triennial, an exclusive and strictly limited season of just four performances will run at Arts Centre Melbourne’s Playhouse from March 12 to 15.
Set between Saigon in 1956 and Paris in 1996 – and boasting a cast of 11 performers – Saigon shines a light on Vietnamese life in Paris, which is home to one of the world’s largest Vietnamese migrant populations. The bittersweet story unfolds in a nostalgic suburban restaurant in the French capital in 1996, the year Vietnamese exiles were first allowed to return to their homeland, 40 years after French colonial rule collapsed. You’ll meet lovers separated by war, families who must struggle through conflicting lived experiences and other relationships affected by diaspora.
The restaurant, replicated with deft realism on stage – the actors actually cook during the show – is a meeting place where community members can speak their mother tongue, celebrate holidays and connect with their culture. It’s also an important link to the Saigon of their youths. But now, after decades in a Western society, they are forced to confront the meaning of returning home.
The narrative is inspired by autobiographical events, as Nguyen made this journey to Saigon herself as a teenager, decades after her mother arrived in Paris. She revisited the experience over two years, gathering stories in Paris and Saigon before putting pen to paper. The result is an intimate portrait of 11 characters, united in their exile and hope.
Played by French and Vietnamese speaking actors, the power of communication and love is laid bare. Audiences around the world have laughed, cried and cheered on their feet. Book your seat now, and bring tissues.
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