Review: Mountains – The Dreams of Lily Kwok, Stratford Circus

Beautiful and brutal, Mountains – The Dreams of Lily Kwok plays Stratford Circus before continuing on a tour of the UK

I invited you into my past… And you invited me into your future

It’s always a pleasure to investigate East Asian stories on our stages, an occurrence that remains all too rare in British theatres. This Royal Exchange Theatre, Yellow Earth and Black Theatre Live co-production goes some small way to address that, embarking on a UK tour after a successful run in Manchester and you hope it encourages similar work of this quality.

Based on Helen Tse’s memoir Sweet Mandarin, In-Sook Chappell’s  Mountains – The Dreams of Lily Kwok probes into the family history of the three generations of women behind the famous Manchester restaurant also named Sweet Mandarin. With food, and a love of food, at its centre, it is a frank and sometimes brutal exploration of East Asian history, viewed through the prism of the individual. Continue reading “Review: Mountains – The Dreams of Lily Kwok, Stratford Circus”

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”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

 
South London based site-specific theatre company Baseless Fabric are presenting David Mamet’s rarely performed short plays Reunion and Dark Pony in libraries across South London as part of National Libraries Week 2017. The plays are two of David Mamet’s earliest work, first produced in the US in 1976 and 1977 respectively and both feature David Schaal and Siu-see Hung in their casts.
 
Both of the plays explore father and daughter relationships and the audience will be immersed in the worlds of these plays in the unique and atmospheric library environments during National Libraries Week 2017 to raise awareness of exciting events happening in local libraries and bring theatre to people in their local library space. Artistic Director Joanna Turner directs with Set & Costume Designer Bex Kemp, creating a site-responsive design in each library space.
 
Performance Locations:
Mon 9th Oct 7.30pm – Durning Library, SE11 4HF (nearest station: Kennington)
Tue 10th Oct 7.30pm – John Harvard Library, SE1 1JA (nearest station: Borough)
Wed 11th Oct 7.30pm – John Harvard Library, SE1 1JA (nearest station: Borough)
Thu 12th Oct 7.30pm – Merton Arts Space, Wimbledon Library, SW19 4BG (nearest station: Wimbledon)
Fri 13th Oct 7.30pm – Merton Arts Space, Wimbledon Library, SW19 4BG (nearest station: Wimbledon)
Sat 14th Oct 3pm – Earlsfield Library, SW18 3NY (nearest station: Earlsfield)
Sat 14th Oct 7.30pm – Battersea Library, SW11 1JB (nearest station: Clapham Junction)
Sun 15th Oct 6pm – Clapham Library, SW4 7DB (nearest station: Clapham Common)
Tickets: £9/£7

Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

Review: Chinglish, Park

“Are you a small fish or a big pond?”

David Henry Hwang’s Yellow Face was the first play mounted in the studio at the Park Theatre when it opened in 2013, so it feels apt that the playwright’s return to the venue sees him promoted to the main house for Chinglish. Seen on Broadway in 2011, it’s a more light-hearted take on East Asian issues than we are perhaps seeing in our theatres, or in the limited range of East Asian theatre that gets put on here I should say, and proves an enjoyable treat.

Riffing on the chuckles that come from mistranslated menus and signs (I swear, it is one of my favourite things to do in touristy abroad), Chinglish follows the efforts of an American businessman trying to break into the Chinese market by providing accurately translated signage. But the divide is a big one, linguistically and culturally, and as he searches for people to help in his negotiations, he learns that he can’t always trust the words coming out of their mouths.  Continue reading “Review: Chinglish, Park”

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”

Review: DiaoChan – The Rise of the Courtesan, Above the Arts

“Was woman not created equal to man?”

DiaoChan – The Rise of the Courtesan offers a rare opportunity for London audiences to delve into Chinese classic theatre, with Ross Ericson’s free adaptation coming from part of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, acclaimed as one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature and among the oldest novels in the world. So it aims to be an epic piece of storytelling but this Red Dragonfly/Grist To The Mill production, also directed by Ericson, actually works best in its more human, intimate moments.

As the Han Dynasty comes to a violent end, ambitious general DongZhuo seizes power in 189AD by installing a mere boy on the imperial throne and rules by default as chancellor, protected by his adopted son, the great warrior LüBu. Among the few who oppose him is the government minister WangYun but it takes the enterprising nous of a singing girl in his household named Diaochan to come up with a plot to defeat their enemies and simultaneously secure her rising position in society, breaking out of the usual limited historical roles for women of courtesan and concubine. Continue reading “Review: DiaoChan – The Rise of the Courtesan, Above the Arts”

Review: I Wish To Die Singing – Voices from the Armenian Genocide, Finborough

“Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

Rather than being spoken, this quote – taken from a 1939 speech by Adolf Hitler – is projected onto the rear wall of the Finborough as you enter, setting the tone for this sobering piece of documentary theatre. Neil McPherson’s I Wish To Die Singing – Voices from the Armenian Genocide is pulled together from a range of sources – eyewitness accounts and personal testimonies, the worlds of academia and poetry, photographs and music, Cher and Kim Kardashian – to mark the precise centenary of the beginnings of the events that later inspired the coining of the very word ‘genocide’ by Raphael Lemkin.

From the history lecture-like beginnings that cover the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of a Turkish Republic whose rabid nationalism saw them enter the First World War on the sides of the Germans, to the searing pain of an old man reclaiming long-buried memories of being in the middle of a human catastrophe, Tommo Fowler’s production makes no attempt to sugarcoat this particularly bitter pill. The details of the deportations of hundreds of thousands of Armenians and the desert concentration camps to which they were forced to walk are laid out before us, their story told compassionately but clear-sightedly. Continue reading “Review: I Wish To Die Singing – Voices from the Armenian Genocide, Finborough”