Touring – reviewed at Stratford Circus
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.
Chappell skips around through time as she brings together Mancunian lawyer Helen and her Chinese grandmother Lily in Hong Kong, the city where the former has moved to work and where the latter left to better her lot. Siu-See Hung and Tina Chiang play this complex relationship beautifully as painful secrets are unearthed, shocking realities revealed, inner strengths located and utilised to their fullest.
As with The Great Wave, there’s a powerful sense of a history that needs to be shared, one which isn’t taught in our classrooms or shown in our period dramas. And Jennifer Tang’s production is careful to balance Mountains’ innate seriousness and tragedy with a warmth and humanity that makes it truly engaging.