Park Theatre, London – until 13 July 2019
Mother (Linh-Dan Pham) believes hard work and drive will result in success. She is strict with her two children Mai (Anna Nguyen) and Anh (Michael Phong Lee) and her husband (Kwong Loke) doesn’t come off lightly either.
Mai is bright and works hard but pushes against the boundaries imposed by her mother. She enjoys photography and delving beneath the surface of a photo but it makes her realise there is far more to her parents and what they’ve experienced than they outwardly present. But, she doesn’t know how to talk to them about it until almost too late.
Following the family through Mai’s teen years and into early adulthood, the narrative is spliced with the occasional flashback to life in Vietnam.
Mother is no-nonsense and tough but it is done with love, even if it isn’t immediately obvious. She injects context, a reminder of the difficulties and dangerous conditions she and Father left behind.
Like a photo album, the play offers a series of snapshots – key moments. There are some lovely family scenes, so naturally executed that you almost feel like an interloper and it offers an intriguing slice of Vietnamese culture and custom. There are touching moments too, particularly between Mai and Anh, demonstrating that easeful balance of love-annoyance that siblings have. And there is humour too; Mother’s sharply forthright observations and remonstrations are particularly funny.
My niggle is that in compressing a lot of story into its two hours (plus interval) running time some plot threads feel underdeveloped and yet the pace occasionally still feels slow.
The set is curious. It’s made up of sort of kitchen space to the rear then a divider which doubles for a factory or meeting space with a living room towards the front. It compresses the action most of which takes places in the living room and can make the play feel a little static.
Nonetheless, it is a solid first play with characters you have sympathy for and enjoy spending time with.
I’m giving Summer Rolls three and a half stars and you can see it at the Park Theatre until 13 July.
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From the archive: As everyone is talking about Andrew Scott at the moment this was what I thought of him in The Emporer and The Galilean in 2011.
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