Review: Overheard, Chinese Arts Now at Wun’s Tea Room & Bar

Come for the theatre, stay for the cocktails and dumplings. Overheard does immersive theatre right at Wun’s Tea Room & Bar

“How hot is hot? Is it like western hot or Asian hot?”

The illicit pleasure of listening in on the conversations around you is one which never grows old and it is one that the Chinese Arts Now Festival seems keen to encourage. 2018 saw a production of Ming Ho’s Citizens of Nowhere? which gave us headphones to eavesdrop on a family reunion in the lobby of the Southbank Centre and using similar technology, you can now experience Joel Tan’s Overheard at Wun’s Tea Room & Bar.

At a time when the term immersive is abused so freely when describing theatre, it is a lovely surprise when a production actually gets it this right. Wun’s Tea Room remains open to customers while the show is happening so there’s a real sense of hustle and bustle around you as the wait staff slip between the tables of this atmospheric cocktail bar and restaurant (you can add food and drink to your ticket – I’d recommend the loquat and plum wine cocktail and chilli sesame dumplings!). Continue reading “Review: Overheard, Chinese Arts Now at Wun’s Tea Room & Bar”

Review: Augmented Chinatown 2.0, Chinese Arts Now

An app, a walking tour, audio dramas, augmented reality and music, Augmented Chinatown 2.0 is definitely looking to the future here

“What actually is the Chinese history of this area?”

You have to admire an arts festival that is determined to push boundaries and with Augmented Chinatown 2.0, the Chinese Arts Now Festival is certainly doing that. Download the app onto your phone and a brave new world of augmented reality, specially commissioned music and audio drama is yours, as you’re taken on a walking tour around London’s Chinatown.

It’s a bold and expansive project and as with many technologically-forward things, some aspects work better than others. Playwright Joel Tan’s script is beautifully composed, blending historical detail with socio-cultural commentary to delve into the layers of these Soho streets, of which Chinatown is just the latest. It really does manage that wonderful trick of making you see familiar sights anew (look out for those floor mosaics!). Continue reading “Review: Augmented Chinatown 2.0, Chinese Arts Now”

10 questions for 10 years – Ming Ho

Playwright and scriptwriter Ming Ho takes on 10 questions and reveals the unlikeliest of Josephs you ever did  hear…!

I love a show that completely takes you by surprise and the aural adventure (plus snacks!) of Citizens of Nowhere? – a show commissioned and produced by Chinese Arts Now – did just that, lingering long in the mind. So I thought I’d invite writer Ming Ho to speak a little about that show, and much more besides:

“Getting to work with the lovely cast, Jennifer Lim, Siu Hun Li (who inspired the character of Jun in the play!), and Pik-Sen Lim, a rare East Asian face on TV when I was growing up.” 

  • Where were you 10 years ago?

    In the wilderness. Having started out as a script editor in TV drama and moved into scriptwriting, I’d had a solid few years working on long-running series (Eastenders, Casualty etc), but my mum had been developing symptoms of dementia for probably over a decade, and her needs became pressing; as an only child with no other immediate family, I found myself spending more and more time supporting her, shuttling back and forth from our family home to my flat in London, and eventually having to arrange residential care for her and sell the house. She’s been in care for 8 years now in two different homes and is at a very advanced stage. In 2013, I started a blog about our experiences, Dementia Just Ain’t Sexy, and have since become heavily involved in campaigning re dementia and carer issues, sitting on the Carers Advisory Panel of Dementia Carers Count  and the Advisory Board of Raising Films.

    I never consciously withdrew from TV writing, but fell out of circulation on the long-runners, and that year of 2009 also had major surgery that I’d been putting off for some time, due to mum’s condition. I kept up contact with the business through involvement with the Writers’ Guild, sitting on the TV Committee and Executive Council, and being Deputy Chair from 2012-14. It was a traumatic time, but arguably, with hindsight, it has given me pause for thought about the kind of work I really want to do. I’ve realised that autonomy and truthfulness of content are the drivers for me and have since been focusing on original work for stage, screen, and radio.

    Continue reading “10 questions for 10 years – Ming Ho”

Review: Citizens of Nowhere?, Southbank Centre

The fascinating site-specific and immersive Citizens of Nowhere? makes for an intriguing afternoon at the Southbank Centre

“Things are getting better. There’s Gemma Chan and…well, there’s Gemma Chan.”

There’s a delicious sort of pleasure that comes from being able to eavesdrop on a conversation on the table next to you, isn’t there. Or is it just me…? Fortunately it’s not, as that is the whole set-up of Ming Ho’s Citizens of Nowhere?, part of the China Changing Festival at the Southbank Centre. Sat at cafe tables in the foyer of Queen Elizabeth Hall, armed with headphones, we get to listen in on the British-Chinese Lo family on the table just over there.

Edinburgh-based Linda has come down to London to visit with two of her kids. Jun Chi is getting married and Jane’s making waves in the local Conservative party but she’s got some pretty big news of her own to break as well. And in the way of most families, their conversation gets waylaid by the resurfacing of old history as a way of exploring current tensions, overlaid by a wide range of intersecting contemporary issues about life in the UK right now. Continue reading “Review: Citizens of Nowhere?, Southbank Centre”

Web Series review: Jade Dragon

“You all look Chinese to me”

Just a quickie for this web series which I’ve been meaning to get around to for ages now. Written by Rebecca Boey (with Daniel York contributing one of the nineteen short episodes), Jade Dragon is a mockumentary series set in a Chinese takeaway which does a couple of crucial things.

One, it represents a much-needed, and still all-too-rare, opportunity for actors of East Asian heritage to work in a British media that feels stubbornly resistant to crossing this particular Rubicon of diversity. But it also offers up a non-judgemental, matter-of-fact presentation of what that British East Asian experience looks like in all its varied racism from overt violence to subtle othering. Continue reading “Web Series review: Jade Dragon”

Dispatches from the Vaults #1

“Who knew the world needed a two-hander musical about chemsex?”

Keeping on top of reviews is a challenge at the best of times, so throwing in a whole bunch of festival shows from the Vaults makes time management even more challenging. So I’m opting to round up shorter reviews of what I’ve seen in the week into a single post. First up is Thom Sellwood’s Happy, the aforementioned chemsex musical and also a whole lot more. Constructed as something of a meta-theatrical experiment, it takes the form of a pitch for a new show, wrapped around the confessional outpouring of a man struggling to deal with the comedown from his last, successful, show.

Lounging in his East London flat and firing up Grindr on a regular basis, Thom (the character) is battling with ideas of self-worth and whether the notion of just ‘being happy’ is a false construct in a society only interested in selling us things. On top of that, Thom (the pitcher) is dealing with the stress of his creative partner not turning up and though his friend Carrie has stepped in at the last minute to sing the songs, she’s barely up to speed. Thus comes in a second level of interrogation about personal and creative satisfaction as Thom and Carrie spar over his increasingly outrageous behaviour. It’s all perfectly pitched on the teetering edge of collapse, highly convincingly so and definitely one to look out for. Continue reading “Dispatches from the Vaults #1”

Short Film Review: The Orphan of Zhao Redux

“What can ordinary people do?”

Based on The Great Revenge of the Orphan of Zhao by Ji Junxiang and mixing in texts from numerous other writers, Daniel York’s The Orphan of Zhao Redux is a most enchanting thing indeed. The play is perhaps sadly most notorious, in recent years at least, for being at the centre of a controversy when the RSC cast just three East Asian actors in minor roles (out of seventeen in total) in what has been known as the Chinese Hamlet, such is the piece’s significance. But York fully wrests ownership away from such unsavouriness to produce a gorgeous eight minute short that is a brilliant showcase for what might have been.

The film features fourteen leading lights of the British East Asian acting scene, the narrative scattered between them all and the text reshaped into something of a poem as just as much feeling as storytelling emerges through the individual lines. Ikin Yum’s stunning monochrome cinematography has been astutely edited by Andrew Koji and the beautifully evocative music underscores the whole affair with just the right level of intrigue and emotion. Not knowing the play didn’t matter a jot, the film stirs something elemental – especially in its haunting final minute – and had me thoroughly hooked from the start. Continue reading “Short Film Review: The Orphan of Zhao Redux”

Short Film Review #30

 
War Hero

 

Doug Rao came to my attention as part of the Spanish Golden Age ensemble currently at the Arcola and I was intrigued to see he was an acclaimed writer and director as well as an actor. His debut short film War Hero hit the festival circuit in 2007 and it isn’t hard to see how it was considered worthy. A densely packed story set in a military hospital , Rao poses questions about the morality of warfare (particularly in Iraq), its effects on the individuals tasked with carrying out the orders and the collateral damage it inevitably collects.

Continue reading “Short Film Review #30”

Short Film Review #23

  My Dad the Communist from Tuyen Do on Vimeo.

It is tempting to see My Dad the Communist as something of a neat companion piece to Chimerica, featuring a Benedict Wong character responding to the events of Tiananmen Square in a completely different way but in truth, they are separate beasts and the only real thing linking them is the dearth of complex Asian-related stories on our screens and stages (although things do seem to be changing, slowly). This Lab Ky Mo film focuses on a typical British-Chinese family who work in a takeaway (where else?!) – Tony has lived all of his life in the UK yet his father has remained stubbornly, inscrutably Chinese in his behaviour, rarely uttering anything at all or showing any affection to his wife or son.
 
A car accident involving the older man motivates Tony to look back on his 20 year life and reflect on the rare moments that his dad did speak, realising the huge significance of those events, and the ones where he didn’t, imagining the parental figure he craved. Mo utilises the fantasy flashback several times to great effect, we really get a sense of being caught up in Tony’s reverie and it is really quite moving. Wong is customarily excellent as the taciturn father, Siu Hun Li is also strong as the son trying to do things differently, not least with his own new wife, an expressive performance from Tuyen Do.  

Continue reading “Short Film Review #23”

Review: The Fu Manchu Complex, Ovalhouse

“Well done my old flip-flop”

The Irish are a bunch of potato-munching ne’er-do-wells, the Scots are misery-laden domestic servants, the English are what-notting, closeted public schoolboys and the Chinese, well they need to get back to frying in the kitchen with their slanty eyes. From its opening vaudeville-style number, it is clear that The Fu Manchu Complex is determined to challenge notions of racial stereotypes and Daniel York’s play certainly does that with gleeful abandon, whether it manages to take the issue further and advance debate, understanding or appreciation is another matter.

Moongate Productions and director Justin Audibert use an all-Asian cast to tell this particular story – a Victorian murder mystery set in the East End of London – and they ‘white up’ to largely great effect. Paul Chan’s Sherlock-esque Nayland Smith is a charismatic lead, Andrew Koji is simply excellent as his lovelorn counterpart Dr Petrie and Moj Taylor’s grotesque housekeeper Mrs Hudson is vividly amusing as the two men set about investigating the encroaching ‘yellow peril’ and the rise of the shadowy figure of Fu Manchu who seems set on world domination. Continue reading “Review: The Fu Manchu Complex, Ovalhouse”