The island of Taiwan has a comparatively progressive history of LGBTQI+ rights compared to its Asian counterparts.
It was, for example, the first country in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage.
Even so, disparate viewpoints and tensions between old and new generations still exist.
The one-man show Blue Island 99, in a flurry of contemporary dance, video multimedia and poetic warbling, explores this complexity, grappling with the expression of oneself in a nation buried in an uncertain political past.
In a performance clocking in at just under an hour and bordering on the avant-garde in form and style, director Keng Cheng brazenly yet delicately places his Taiwanese local performer Tzu-Chieh Hsueh centre-stage, where his unnamed character struggles as a gay man in Taiwan before escaping to Western countries – like America and England – to locate a sense of self rejected by his own homeland.
Spoken in Mandarin and Taiwanese dialects (subtitles appear through video projection) alongside English, its blend of languages echoes itself as a performative artform – meshing mediums together as a work comprising expressive dance, video art, poetry and swooning Taiwanese music.
Cheng’s intricate direction threads these seemingly separate pieces together, and it’s lithely performed by Hsueh who takes on multiple personas to stirring effect.
The show’s thin plotting also appears like these fragmentary pieces: it tracks the man’s loss of lovers; his foreignness in overseas cities; the memories of his mother when he comes out to her; his suicidal tendencies.
But the scripting doesn’t always get to the heart of the messy, complicated political and familial anxieties brewing beneath the surface of this topical performance.
It skirts around the edges of societal burdens and expectations in scenes where his mother shuns his sexuality, and when he embarks on a forbidden relationship with an Italian man from a Christian family.
But when the narrative slips away and the show relishes in its vibrant, audacious idiosyncrasies, it seems a more moving and eloquently crafted piece.
In a visually stunning moment where green dotted lights glitter across the set and play across the man’s face in sparkly illumination, the most thoughtful questions of the show is posed: “What is my homeland … What is motherland … What is poetry?”
These enquiries feel on par with Blue Island 99’s curious, probing uncertainties into its art form and attainment of self-identity.
And that’s why the show fits in so well as part of the Fringe Festival programming: it’s a theatrical work that, like its protagonist, exists on the margins.