Review: Forgotten 遗忘, Arcola Theatre

Daniel York Loh’s Forgotten 遗忘 proves an invaluable history lesson at Arcola Theatre in a co-production from Moongate and Yellow Earth

“Whose side are we on?”

The obsessive focus on highly-skilled migrants that characterises so much of the administration’s thinking on immigration neglects one crucial detail – that it is so often migrants who end up doing the kind of criminally low-paid, thankless jobs that our society relies upon and rarely acknowledges. Of course, this kind of erasure is nothing new but it is still a shock to discover the history lesson that Daniel York Loh has in store for us in Forgotten 遗忘.

For his new play tells us the story of the Chinese Labour Corps – the hundreds of thousands of rural Chinese workers who were recruited to work by Britain and her allies in the trenches World War I. Not as soldiers but labourers cleaning machines, digging trenches, removing bodies – an integral part of the war effort but one whose contributions remain entirely undersung. And as we approach the centenary of Remembrance Day, what better time to redress this. Continue reading “Review: Forgotten 遗忘, Arcola Theatre”

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”

Review: The Sugar-Coated Bullets of the Bourgeoisie, Arcola

“We made the revolution, not Mao”

The Sugar-Coated Bullets of the Bourgeoisie is based on more than a decade of Anders Lustgarten’s intensive studies into China and it shows. The play is undoubtedly well-constructed and shines a light on an area that is persistently underexplored by British theatre but with so much information and insight at his fingertips, the playwright doesn’t resist the temptation to share as much of it as he can and it makes for a slightly frustrating experience.

So we get a thorough examination of modern Chinese history through the prism of a small village from Rotten Peach. There, the rise of Chairman Mao and the founding of the People’s Republic utterly transforms the landscape in 10 brutal years but we only get a certain amount of a dramatic rendering of how this upheaval affects the social fabric of the lives of the villagers, too much time is taken up with exposition and explanation, political theory by stealth and thus lacking in theatrical thrill. Continue reading “Review: The Sugar-Coated Bullets of the Bourgeoisie, Arcola”

Review: Piranha Heights, Old Red Lion

“Stay out of my sight cos you’re likely to light my fuse”

South of the river, Philip Ridley’s natural home is the Southwark Playhouse but up north, it is the Old Red Lion that has proved an ideal fit as a series of revivals there continues with Piranha Heights. The warped uniqueness of his apocalyptic worldview is well suited to the claustrophobic intimacy that can be generated in this Angel pub theatre, under the new artistic directorship of Stewart Pringle, and this D.E.M. Productions take on this 2008 play is no exception.

There’s anger here, elemental fury that literally shakes the walls of Cécile Trémolières’ inventive set as the responsibilities that one generation owes to the next are explored and exploded, and repeated as the next ones come along. The impact of parental legacies – both emotional in the psychological damage they can inflict, and physical in the passing on of property and effects – make this a fantastical yet gripping theatrical experience under Max Barton’s direction. Continue reading “Review: Piranha Heights, Old Red Lion”

Review: Crystal Springs, Park Theatre

“Everything I did was to protect my daughter”

The world of cyber-bullying may be new and uncharted territory that parents have to delve into but Kathy Rucker’s Crystal Springs makes the case that it is vital that we as a society engage with it sooner rather than later for all our sakes. Of course bullying is nothing new but the way in which the available technology and the proliferation of the internet has transformed the way in which people relate to each other means that it has become far easier to make life-altering decisions.

Rucker’s play doesn’t have too much to say that is new or original in all honesty but its structure means that it takes a while for this to emerge and in the telling, it does fitfully engage. We start at the end, in the aftermath of a teen suicide and with the help of a journalist who has a book deal, we work backwards to discover the detail of a tragic tale of class conflict and jealousy in which the mothers are as much to blame as the daughters whose initially bright friendship becomes soured. Continue reading “Review: Crystal Springs, Park Theatre”