Reviewed – 24th June 2019
“a seminal play about family, racism and history, brought to life by vivid and genuine performances across the cast”
Summer Rolls is the first British-Vietnamese play to be staged in the UK, and Park Theatre is its home. Written by Tuyen Do, the play explores racism, the impact of war, culture and community, through the lens of a single family across several decades. Mai’s parents and older brother escaped war-torn Vietnam at a time when Mai was too young to remember. Brought up in the UK, Mai resists the traditional values of her parents that tell her how should behave, what she should become and who she should marry. But she documents the shadows of her family’s scars and secrets – her father sleepwalking at night for example – through her camera, learning her history in stills. Performed across the Vietnamese and English languages, this is a play about the collision of two cultures.
The set by Moi Tran presents a traditional Vietnamese home, a kitchen station with chopsticks and fish sauce, two sewing machines, a radio that brings the politics of the outside world in. Mai and her black boyfriend seem to exist in contrast to this space, a reminder of the London culture that the family are living within.
The staging sometimes lets down the play, closing off the conversations to most of the audience. From a writing perspective, there is sometimes a clumsiness around delivery of the various revelations that shape the play, too sudden or conversely predictable. As a whole, the story has a fragmented feel to it, and the scenes do not move well between each other, lacking fluency at points. However the strength of individual scenes, and the characters and relationship created within them, still make this a very enjoyable evening.
Mai’s mother is sharp, funny and dedicated to her children. She is played in a standout performance by Linh-Dan Pham. Anna Nguyen and Keon Martial-Phillip are also particularly strong as the young couple, exploring London adolescence, sex and alcohol and art. The relationships between the characters feel consistently genuine, complex and tender.
This is a seminal play about family, racism and history, brought to life by vivid and genuine performances across the cast.
Reviewed by Amelia Brown
Photography by Danté Kim
Park Theatre until 13th July
Previously reviewed at this venue:
Reviewed – 31st January 2019
“Despite the linguistic drawbacks, director, Kristine Landon-Smith, produces an inspiring revival”
In the 1950s, France is attempting to mask the emotional and moral effects of the war and return to an appearance of normality. Jean Anouilh’s prolific output, rarely performed today, ranges from drama to farce. ‘The Orchestra’ leans towards what he categorised as his ‘black’ work (as opposed to ‘pink’, ‘brilliant’ or ‘grating’), contrasting with poignant wit the dramatic change the German Occupation had on the country. Here, Anouilh mirrors this with a small café ensemble whose polished performance juxtaposes the smouldering frustrations, rivalry and revelations which seep out between movements, the sugary lightness of the music enhancing the discord. The orchestra represents the female-dominated, close-knit society of the time. Stuck in a dull provincial spa town they repeat over-familiar tunes to an unappreciative audience. But they are also keen to unwrap each other’s secrets and the collaboration question.
Jeremy Sams’ translation brings to life the radiant facade and cutting jealously, even if the language is sometimes somewhat updated, but the setting of time and place in this play is essential to the characters’ behaviour. A culturally diverse cast with varied accents changes the ambience and, moreover, means that it is quite often hard to get past understanding the actual words and we lose the nuances of the script and personalities. Amanda Osbourne as Madame Hortense controls the group with strong authority (if not the voluptuous shape described by Anouilh) as it writhes with uncomfortable truths. The violin ‘desk partners’ reveal their personal domestic realities and there is amusing chitchat between the flautist and the viola player. Even the cellist admits deliberately playing out of tune to German audiences. Pedro Casarin as Monsieur Leon, the pianist, gives the most dramatic about-face but it is the fighting over him by Madame Hortense and Suzanne, the cellist, which culminates in the darkest moment…as the band plays on.
The breezy melodies (Felix Cross) camouflage the searing tensions but the quality of the soundtrack doesn’t do justice to the energy and expression of recorded live music. Learning to mime playing a stringed instrument is a highly commendable feat and Sarah Waddell (the violinist, Pamela), in particular, makes a convincing impression. Despite the linguistic drawbacks, director, Kristine Landon-Smith, produces an inspiring revival of a writer and genre which has long been neglected and captures the forced smile of a period desperate to gloss over the recent past.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography by Jacob Malinski
Omnibus Theatre until 17th February
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: