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”

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”

DVD Review: Vicious

“I never know when I’m going too far but I’m always so glad when I do.”

It was with no little intrigue that I approached watching the boxset of ITV sitcom Vicious – memories of its run from last year focused on the absolute hammering it got, how it had apparently set representations of gay men back centuries and basically broken television. I have to admit to having no interest in watching it from the moment I’d heard about it but clearly something had mellowed by the time I spotted a bargain in a charity shop and sat down to watch Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi as a long-partnered, long-bickering couple. 

Written and created by Gary Janetti (a veteran of US TV including Will & Grace) and Mark Ravenhill (a UK playwright of no little renown), it is an homage to, or more accurately a riff off, the world of 1970s sitcoms with its single living room set where Freddie and Stuart bitch away at each other all day long. They’re frequently joined on the sofa by barely-tolerated fag hag Violet, a deliciously fruity Frances De La Tour, and their newly arrived eye candy neighbour, the handsome but heterosexual Ash played by Iwan Rheon, and that’s pretty much your set-up from which endless capers abound. Continue reading “DVD Review: Vicious”

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”