New Diorama Theatre
Reviewed – 3rd June 2018
“‘Khon’, written and performed by Michael Phong Le, is the standout piece of the programme”
The New Diorama’s ‘Taking Flight Festival’ consists of three new plays by emerging writers from the British East Asian, South Asian and South East Asian communities. ‘Clarissa’ by Lekha Desai Morrison is the opening piece. “It’s five o’clock somewhere,” declares Jasmine as she flicks through recipe after recipe in a pink dressing gown, trying to decide what to cook at an upcoming barbeque to impress her fiance’s mother, Clarissa. But Clarissa has other ideas, and much to Jasmine’s surprise, a sound at the door heralds the arrival of Clarissa herself. This is a play that discusses similarity and difference in an entertaining and charming way, as an apparent clash of cultures gives way to the realisation that they have more in common than they expected. The opening monologue lands most effectively (particularly in terms of comic effect) when it is directed at the audience, but these moments are few and far between. Instead its direction seems random, neither engaging with us directly but at the same time not engaging with the world of the play either. Warmly domestic, the script is a little simplistic compared to the later two, and the characters are played in too much of an overblown manner to be truly convincing. A more subtle and domestic approach to this might’ve given the piece the intimacy necessary.
‘Khon’, written and performed by Michael Phong Le, is the standout piece of the programme. Voted most likely to end up in prison in his school yearbook, Michael has always found it hard to tread the line between the rigid, rule-abiding British society which he has been raised in and his more chaotic Vietnamese heritage where they even have a word for bending the rules: “khon”. But as he does his best to prove he is equal, that he is “a good immigrant”, his family are involved in a very different way of life. A story about family, dichotomous cultures and love, ‘Khon’ is funny and moving in equal measure. Cleverly constructed, Le knows how to strike the balance between playful and serious and he does so masterfully, and the piece is supported by a strong and likeable delivery.
‘Taylor Swift’s Dog’ is the third and final piece of the evening, written by Samuel Daram. YouTube vlogger Yazmina is writing her first fantasy novel. At the other end of the spectrum, literary agents are rejecting authors with foreign names in favour of celebrity written reads. This is a piece that screams potential but is unfortunately unfulfilled. The scenes at the literary agency feel overly long, particularly as they are quite repetitive in nature, and we get the picture early on. A vital point about the industry is being made, but if it is made too many times it quickly loses its impact. Whilst the genre of satire works really well, it is almost not satirical enough, so that the final jump feels so unexpected that it takes us out of the narrative. Some development could make this piece into the smart satire it strives to be.
‘Taking Flight Festival’ is a night of clear talent, entertaining, varied and nuanced.
Reviewed by Amelia Brown
New Diorama Theatre
Previously reviewed at this venue