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A CurtainUp London Review
Into the Numbers
"We must stare them in the face even if it means putting ourselves in places that are uncomfortable." — Iris Chang
Into the Numbersv
Elizabeth Chan as Iris Chang (Photo: Scott Rylander)
The title Into the Numbers is because the author and central figure in this play, Iris Chang is repeatedly asked how many were killed by the Japanese soldiers at Nanking, the then capital of China, in December 1937. She is also asked to compare the magnitude of other events called genocides. How many were killed in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge, in Bosnia, in the Holocaust, in Rwanda? Does it make it any more explicable to be able to give the numbers of those killed, babies bayonetted or women and girls raped? Why have there been so many attrocities in the twentieth century?

Aged 36, Iris Chang committed suicide in 2004. She had suffered from depression, was taking strong medication and had a nervous breakdown in Louisville, convinced that she was being followed by people in a white van. Her book The Rape of Nanking was a bestseller, its origins being in the account her grandparents gave of their escape from China which was a part of her family history, and published on the 60th anniversary of the massacre of 300,000 people and the rape of 80,000 women and girls in just six weeks. Iris Chang followed up this book with a narrative history of "The Chinese in America".

Christopher Chen's play takes the form of an interviewer (Timothy Knightley) introducing Iris Chang (Elizabeth Chan) to a group there to hear her lecture about Nanking and her research. Later this actor changes into her concerned husband Brett, and later still into her psychiatrist. The changes are explained and skillfully delineated so we are always clear which role Knightley is playing.

One actor, Jennifer Lim, tells of her relative's ordeal in Nanking as representative of the survivors Iris Chang interviewed. Mark Ota plays the Deputy Japanese Ambassador who uses words to wriggle out of any responsibility for the past, and he also plays a Japanese soldier. Amy Molloy plays Minnie Vautrin, a missionary who gave refuge to many Chinese women and girls in her missionary college in Nanking. Minnie Vautrin's scene is truly harrowing as she describes what she has seen as the face of the Devil and explains that, as a Christian woman, this experience has killed her soul. She too committed suicide a year after she returned to the USA in 1941.

The scenes with Iris's husband show his concern about the impact this research has on her. Her suicide note left these words, "I promise to get up and get out of the house every morning. I will stop by to visit my parents then go for a long walk. I will follow the doctor's orders for medications. I promise not to hurt myself. I promise not to visit Web sites that talk about suicide."

The performances are true, especially the herculean one by Elizabeth Chan who has the difficult task of showing Iris Chang's mental health distress and Amy Molloy who is also incredibly moving as the missionary Minnie Vautrin.

The Finborough reminds us once more of the way in which theatre can inform and be an agent for knowledge and change. In 2015 at the Finborough I Want to Die Singing movingly informed us about the largely unknown Armenian genocide in 1915 here. As Iris Chang says, " We must stare them in the face even if it means putting ourselves in places that are uncomfortable."

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Into the Numbers
Written by Christopher Chen
Directed by Georgie Staight
With: Elizabeth Chan, Timothy Knightley, Jennifer Lim, Amy Molloy, Mark Ota
Design: Isabella Van Braekett
Lighting Design: Matt Kater
Sound Design: Benjamin Winter
Running time: One hour 30 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 0844 847 1652 (This number will be changing in February 2018)
Booking to 27th January 2018
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 5th January 2018 performance at The Finborough, Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED (Tube/Overground: Earl's Court/West Brompton)
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