Review: The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, Theatre Royal Stratford East

“I’ve decided I’m going to be white”

Just a quickie for The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin as it closes in a couple of days and I have to say, I was a little bit disappointed with it. Kirsten Childs’ musical follows its protagonist Viveca from childhood in 1960s LA to 1990s New York, from a relatively sheltered middle class life to the harsher realities of trying to make it as a dancer on Broadway, plus navigating her way through the racism and sexism inherent in so much of contemporary society.

But though there’s much in the story that resonates (it is partly based on Childs’ own experiences), the show never quite connects in the same way. It picks with a magpie-like glee at a world of musical theatre references without really settling into its own identity, and musically the mix of Motown, pop and r’n’b feels a bit scattershot. Josette Bushell-Mingo’s production has surface glamour but even with Karis Jack and Sophia Mackay splitting the role of the younger and older versions of Viveca, there’s not enough of the grit to really ground the story.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 11th March

Review: Takeaway, Theatre Royal Stratford East

“What makes an Eddie Woo”

Eddie Woo is stuck working in his dad’s takeaway, having failed his A-Levels yet again, but frequently escapes to his daydreaming world where he is the New (Chinese) Tom Jones. Back in the real world though, he is juggling two girlfriends, a best friend who might be drifting away from him and a full-time job though when a talent show seems to offer a potential way out, it leads to yet more confusion as Eddie is finally forced to decide what it is he really wants from life. Such is the set up for the Theatre Royal Stratford East’s new show Takeaway, music by Leon Ko and book and lyrics by Robert Lee, which makes the claim to be the first ever British-Chinese musical.

There is just so much going on in here that the overwhelming impression is that I suspect Lee and Ko might actually be certifiably insane. The manic way in which the show rockets around its different subject areas and formats is breathtaking and not always in a good way. Talent shows, racism, the pressure of working in family businesses, the Chinese immigrant experience and generation gap, frustrated youth dealing with the lack of opportunities, the questioning of sexuality and much more beside are all thrown into the melting pot alongside a structure which throws in songs in the most arbitrary of manners: as Eddie’s internal monologues, insane fantasy sequences, romantic ballads, storytelling songs, comedy numbers, Tom Jones pastiches. Everything is whirled together and so we ricochet from plot strand to plot strand with dizzying speed, resulting in a show that, however well-intentioned, ends up as something of a mess. Continue reading “Review: Takeaway, Theatre Royal Stratford East”