Review: I Swallowed a Moon Made of Iron (Canadian Stage)

Canadian Stage presents a tribute to Chinese poet Xu Lizhi to Toronto audiences

A beautiful ode to the late poet Xu Lizhi, I Swallowed a Moon Made of Iron gives a voice to migrant workers, expressing the hidden lives and hardships of those working in grim factories in Shenzhen, China. Presented by Canadian Stage at the Berkeley Street Theatre Njo Kong Kie performs, produces, composes and directs the musical and theatrical mix.

In 2010, fourteen deaths of Foxconn workers, previously invisible to the world, grew to international recognition when Xu Lizhi’s poetry was translated and published following his death. The poems present the working conditions, long hours, low pay in some of the world’s largest factories where workers are seen as just numbers. These factories produce most of the amenities of our digital lives today, which you may look at differently after seeing his piece.

Njo walks on stage occupied by a 10-foot square white box representing the living quarters of Xu, most of the space is taken up by a grand piano. The 65-minute work takes you on a journey through Xu’s poems, sung in Chinese by Njo. Live music seamlessly melds with the sounds of factories and different soundscapes related to Xu’s life. Njo’s voice is heartfelt and full of emotion as he dives into Xu’s poetry. A projection behind Njo plays the translated poems mixed with different images and videos.

The screen first reads each poem’s title and date written, allowing you to follow the poet over a few years of loneliness and isolation before his suicide at the age of twenty-four. He warns of his eventual death and of others and indicates a sad lack of surprise or care. My most memorable moment follows “A Screw Fell to the Ground” which goes “A screw fell to the ground / In this dark night of overtime / Plunging vertically, lightly clinking / It won’t attract anyone’s attention / Just like last time / On a night like this / When someone plunged to the ground.”

When arriving home, I found myself endless searching and reading more about Xu’s life and the factory he worked in. As more disturbing facts arise in research, I can’t help but push more to see this show so they can open their eyes to these problems in the world, told in such a beautiful manner. Whether or not you know the tragic story of Xu Lizhi, please go see this touching ode to his art.

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Photo of Njo Kong Kie by Dahlia Katz.