Tag Archives: Emma Bailey

Forgotten – 3 Stars



Arcola Theatre

Reviewed – 31st October 2018


“Forgotten is a play which should most certainly take its place in our global collective memory”


Daniel York Loh’s play takes as its subject the forgotten contribution of the WW1 Chinese Labour Corps – approximately 140,000 in number – who supported the Allies and, in no small part, paved the way for the shaping of modern China. The cast of six take us on a journey from a rural village in China to 1920s Paris, by way of the trenches and a French munitions factory, and, for the most part, it is a compelling and enlightening ride. Three of Forgotten’s central protagonists are part of a rural theatre troupe, and the play begins with their stylised performance of a folk-tale, complete with the striking high pitch and rising cadence associated with Chinese opera. It is a clever device through which to catapult this 21st century London audience into a different world, and immediately emphasises how little we know of China and its history and traditions. This theatrical form was continually woven through the tapestry of the piece, with greater and lesser degrees of success, but at its best moments – the Eunuch Lin facing down German shell-fire with song and dance – was uniquely arresting. Credit must be given here to Quang Kien Van’s perfectly tuned movement direction, which so deftly transformed the villagers/soldiers into performers when the occasion demanded.

Emma Bailey’s excellent design, complemented by Jessica Hung Han Yun’s lighting and Luke Swaffield’s sound, artfully created the play’s various different worlds, and Kim Pearce (Director) ensured that the narrative rarely lost pace. There were some lovely performances to boot. This reviewer was particularly charmed by the open-faced and open-hearted Big Dog (engagingly played by Camille Mallet De Chauny), and the other-worldly innocence of the Eunuch Lin (beautifully portrayed by Zachary Hing). In many ways, the play’s central character is The Professor (Leo Wan). He is educated and aspirational, frequently railing against China’s status in the world and yearning for Western cultural and technological sophistication. He begins the piece as a hopeful optimist, convinced that once the fighting has died down, his country and his fellows will finally be given the golden ticket. Wan perfectly captures this sweet, earnest man and provides the play with some gentle but essential comedy moments – his explanation of the muddled alliance and origins of the war being a particular highlight. His final act of anger and defiance is the play’s most powerful image, and justifies the otherwise slightly limp final section, set in postwar Paris.

By shining a light, a hundred years after the end of the Great War, on the shameful omission of the CLC from the numerous narratives of Allied victory, Daniel York Loh’s Forgotten is a vital piece of theatre, and deserves a longer run and a larger stage. It is a complex piece, grappling with themes of colonialism, the price of technological progress, the plight of rural women, and, in a meta-theatrical fashion, the power and role of theatre itself. Occasionally the piece strains under the weight of this thematic density. The post-war exposition seems clumsy, and the play’s language – a melting pot of Confucian poetry, delicious archaic swearing, French and English – occasionally becomes overly dissonant and would benefit from a bit of editorial finesse. It is to be hoped that Loh can harness some further investment to keep working, because Forgotten is a play which should most certainly take its place in our global collective memory.

Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Jack Sain


Arcola Theatre


Arcola Theatre until 17th November


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Heretic Voices | ★★★★ | January 2018
Fine & Dandy | ★★★★★ | February 2018
The Daughter-in-Law | ★★★★ | May 2018
The Parade | ★★★ | May 2018
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives | ★★★★★ | June 2018
The Rape of Lucretia | ★★★★ | July 2018
Elephant Steps | ★★★★ | August 2018
Greek | ★★★★ | August 2018
Mrs Dalloway | ★★★★ | October 2018


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Review of Phoenix Rising – 5 Stars


Phoenix Rising

Smithfield Car Park

Reviewed – 14th November 2017


“refreshing to see resilience portrayed, rather than just ‘victim to the system'”


Callum has been in foster care for a long time. He is now 18 and is getting his own place. Callum’s journey through ‘the system’ and his battle with his demons are the focus of this innovative piece of writing. But the audience’s journey starts before the lights go up, upstairs in The Hope pub, where we meet to be taken through Smithfield Market to an underground car park where this impactful, site specific performance is to take place.


An underground car park is an unlikely stage, but the bare urban setting and harsh nature of concrete set the tone of the play, and the audience know they are in for something special. Being moved around the excellently utilised car park and following the actors from scene to scene as Callum explores his past, future and present is disorientating for the audience, reflective of Callum’s experience of being in care and trying to seek support.

The set and props (Emma Bailey) were minimal yet effective, with most of the scenes enhanced with clever lighting (Zoe Spurr) and excellent character portrayal. Shadows were used particularly well with the character in Callum’s head; this grotesque form, with its jerking movements and limbs at odd angles, was made even more uncomfortable to watch as the light made the eerie shadow cast down on us.

The acting was generally very strong and there was great sustained energy from Callum (Aston McAuley) throughout. He was relatable and the audience felt connected to his story. I found Rebecca Oldfield’s portrayal of Callum’s mother particularly powerful. Depicting extreme mental illness in the form of insanity, is often a difficult subject matter and here the actor was not afraid; it was not over or under done and felt very believable.

The writing (Andrew Day) was accurate and exacting, and knowing the cast of Big House Theatre all have direct experience of the care system, made this piece even more phenomenal. Phoenix Rising is the reimagined and reworked version of Big House’s critically acclaimed debut play ‘Phoenix’ from 2013. It is staged in memory of one of the original cast members.

The comedy dotted throughout felt important and provided moments of relief in the story line. Callum’s character wasn’t all doom and gloom, he made friends and was able to see the funnier side of life at points. These humorous elements were much needed to prevent the script from remaining continually bleak, in light of the context. It was refreshing to see resilience portrayed, rather than just ‘victim to the system’; an easy trap given the subject matter.

This was a brave and honest piece of storytelling from a young cast, which took the audience out of their comfort zones. There were no pretences in this piece of work and the raw, edgy performances in this urban setting have created an experience that will stay with me for quite some time.


Reviewed by Lucy Marsh

Photography by Dylan Nolte


The Big House



is at Smithfield Car Park until 2nd December



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