In The Bag, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

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The Independent Culture

Modern China, a communist, capitalist concatenation of glittering techno tower blocks, polluting industrialisation and burgeoning shopping malls, is an enigma as much for the Chinese, apparently, as its foreign observers.

Modern China, a communist, capitalist concatenation of glittering techno tower blocks, polluting industrialisation and burgeoning shopping malls, is an enigma as much for the Chinese, apparently, as its foreign observers.

At least, that is, according to Wang Xiaoli, the writer of this work. It's the first contemporary Chinese play to get a full production in the UK, and is adapted by the Edinburgh-based playwright Ronan O'Donnell.

Xiaoli takes her time drawing out character in this anonymous urban world where no one has a name. There's the serial cheater: a novelist without a novel, filled with self-loathing and malice, firing invective at the woman he once loved. There's his younger brother: the archetypal hard-working executive whose sole purpose is to keep his wife in her shopaholic lifestyle.

The shadow of a culture is shown, but these brief glimpses are not quite enough. There's a lot of rather obfuscatory word-play going on in this tale of emotional and intellectual disillusionment - each character talks in a vacuum, realism fighting all too often against stilted and unnecessarily mannered speech. Despite far too many self-indulgent, tedious monologues, there are some effective moments, particularly in the finer details of the relationships in the second half of this bitter-tasting play. Mo Zainal brings depth to his portrayal of the overworked younger brother who has grabbed capitalism by the horns. This is a man, as his older brother points out, with Airmiles, as if it's a new euphemism for success.

Jon Bausor's anonymous set could be Beijing or Birmingham - a dull layering of black and grey minimalism, metallic tiles and linoleum, the trappings of quick-fix consumerism atop a scuffed-up mess of mounting urban debris. But the whole affair lacks context. There may be aspects of the play which speak for any modern urbanised culture, but without the vital cultural context that an audience in China would bring, and, despite attempts to deal with this issue in the adaptation, the play has very little new to say.

To 21 May (0131-228 1404)

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