Review: Where to Belong (Summerhall, Edinburgh)
Victor Esses' new piece explores the concept of home
If you had to flee your home, right now, what three things would you take with you? What two people would you take with you? Flight and leaving is at the heart of Victor Esses' new piece, which is a very personal story that stretches back to his mother's experiences growing up in Lebanon and being forced to leave during the Civil War in 1975 as a young girl.
Where to Belong charts Esses' mother's journey, but within her moves she makes across the world are the ingredients for who her son is now. In a trip to Lebanon for the first time, we see as Esses videos his mother's old flat – the one in which she left everything she owned to go to Brazil – and streams it back to her on the phone. The squeals across the network as she watches her old apartment from Brazil in the car with her daughter next to her demonstrate some of what it is like looking at the place she called home but abruptly left behind her for a foreign land.
The story is a fascinating one and Esses grapples too with the homophobia within his Lebanese-Jewish family, who won't fully accept his sexuality and ostracize him from gatherings and get-togethers. The reasons and relationships are complex, as the meaning of home is complex and the piece ultimately asks what ‘home' is, is it a place, a person, a feeling?
Using old footage, music and balloons, Esses weaves his story in a subtle, quiet, winding way. The piece is sweet and sad and a story many will recognize, and Esses engages with the audience in a way that provokes understanding and empathy. Its impact comes at the end, where he calls upon the audience for a hug, in acceptance, of who he is. It's an emotional, if slightly awkward moment (it is 11am in the morning, after all), which is the main point the piece manages to land. Its whimsy and gentleness is soothing, but it doesn't give Where to Belong the impact it needs.