Yang Sing, Manchester
Guest reviewer: Daniel Shipman
Walking up the steps of Yang Sing, a restaurant on the edge of Chinatown, it is easy to see that From Shore to Shore will be no ordinary night at the theatre. (Indeed, it’s not at the theatre at all.) The show takes interviews with Chinese people living in Britain to tell three differing life stories which are blended together to create a snapshot of contemporary Chinese identity.
These are stories that are often mined for their comedy but are here presented in a more appropriate tragi-comic tone. Mary Cooper’s writing cleverly uses signposting to historical events – such as the Cultural Revolution and Tiananmen Square protests – to help contextualise the action. This shows that the stories on display here are not stand-alone tales but are representative of more universal themes in the lives of Chinese migrants.
The play is not located in a functioning Chinese restaurant as a gimmick – the audience are served food both before and after the show. The soup, which is served just as the show begins, works as much more than a tasty treat (although it is delicious). The characters make various references to food, and especially soup, as a source of comfort and a symbol of safety. Having just enjoyed it for ourselves, these references are so much more evocative.
Douglas Kuhrt’s lighting design breaks the action up, keeping scenes cleanly divided in the absence of any significant scenery. There are no illusions that this was ever intended to be a theatre space. The environment is far from ideal, but the cast nimbly zips between the chairs of the audiences as they enter and exit the stage and soldier on through noisy disruptions, making the best of the situation.
The show sometimes struggles with the balance between stereotypes and the reality of the lived experience of much of the Asian diaspora. Fierce parents, emotionally distant grandparents, and children put to work in takeaways, it’s all here. The opportunity to share a meal with fellow audience members at the end of the show goes some way to clearing up this problem though. One of my fellow diners said that some of the events of the show were, at times, painfully recognisable. This format of having a conversation with other audience members at the end of the show is a real triumph and adds immeasurably to the enjoyment of the evening.
It is certainly true that stories such as these are woefully under-represented in British theatre. Despite its flaws, From Shore to Shore does a good job of beginning to redress this imbalance.
From Shore to Shore runs at Yang Sing, Manchester until Saturday 16 March 2019 before heading to Angel Restaurant, Liverpool. For more tour dates click here.
The post Review: From Shore to Shore at Yang Sing appeared first on UPSTAGED MANCHESTER.