Park Theatre, London – until 22 April 2017
An American signage manufacturer stumbles through hilarious mistranslations and the fog of understanding to win a contract and possibly the heart of a crisp and wanton female politician. Chinglish is a slick comedy by David Henry Hwang, author of M. Butterfly about to have a starry revival on Broadway with Clive Owen and directed by Julie Taymor.
Character development in Chinglish comes second to the brisk pace of the jokes in Andrew Keates’ clever and compact staging, with finessed comic turns like a trio of dodgy translators led by Siu-see Hung, and a decidedly juicy Mandarin romance between excellent Candy Ma and Gyuri Sarossy making the point that words don’t matter if you love how his lips move.
With the recent Twitter-fanned brouhaha over casting caucasian actors in Chinese roles, knee-jerk bloggers will doubtless miss the point that Asian actors are better served by stereotype-busting material like this. While Hwang highlights the greed and blundering stupidity of Americans prospecting for business in a country where they understand neither the language nor the culture, he doesn’t let the Chinese off the hook either with a plot that turns in on itself to highlight conflicting public and private motives, as characters cross and double-cross each other.
I’d say some of the ‘signage’ in the plotting is a touch creaky, and the ultimate twist needs tweaking in the script because the clue to it is planted too early and too obviously, but that’s a minor detail and doesn’t detract from a truly funny and engaging evening.
The fluidity of the piece comes from the ease with which it switches between languages without missing a beat and with no loss of comedic impact, and a triumph for casting director Annie Rowe in finding a convincing white actor like Duncan Harris who is fluent in Chinese to play the ambitious university lecturer who tries to broker the deal.
Highly recommended. Sit in the central block to get the best of the jokes.
until April 22
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