Pit – The Vaults
Reviewed – 3rd March 2020
“This humour with subtextual glints of trauma was brilliantly realised and effortlessly portrayed”
As the title indicates, Lòng Mẹ translates from Vietnamese to English to mean ‘Mother’s Soul’. VanThanh Productions presented its titled theme gracefully with two very different stories, cathartically linked to recognise the power of ancestry and give insight into Vietnamese heritage.
As the audience were sitting down, Tuyen Do and Michael Phong Le sat on the minamilistic set and called on the audience, welcoming them in and asking them to sit down, all the while speaking in thick Vietnamese accents. Comments such as ‘You sir, you so handsome, come sit at the front’ induced humour from the stereotype and set a light hearted tone in the theatre. This quality was emulated throughout the production, acting as a powerful juxtaposition to the heart-breaking stories which unfolded.
Tuyen Do’s story was told through a masterclass in voice acting. Do seamlessly glided from a thick Vietnamese accent to a London accent as she portrayed both herself and her mother simultaneously in conversation. This allowed for a strong, punchy insight to her struggle to relate to her mother due to growing up with two opposing cultures at the same time. As she told the story of this relationship, beautiful and traumatising anecdotes including the hiding of gold bars in dead chickens, so that they might be able to trade on the black market during the Vietnam war, were both awe inspiring and funny. But the mood was quickly turned when we are told of her family’s citizenship being stripped due to fighting on the American side during the Vietnam war. This humour with subtextual glints of trauma was brilliantly realised and effortlessly portrayed.
Phong Le’s story was similar to Do’s in that it focused on the struggle of relating to a different generation, brought up during a very different time. However, Do’s story fixated more prominently on the ‘constant internal conflict’ of his coming to terms with his Vietnamese heritage, when he was brought up in the contrasting culture of the UK countryside. Phong Le’s performance was honest and delivered with a gentleness which worked beautifully. His ability to portray himself as a small child, through to being an adolescent and then an adult worked brilliantly as he told a story about his mother going to prison and his own questioning surrounding the incident with a raw innocence.
Mingyu Lin’s direction allowed the pair to transition between stories with simple dance sequences, this seemed a little unnecessary as an attempt to create a link between the two and a distraction from the honest conversations each performer gave. However, Lin’s direction shone through Phong Le’s performance; as he clutched a Rubik’s cube throughout the show, highlighting his naivety to his surroundings; it was clear that Lin’s attention to detail was meticulous here and that a great deal of thought had gone into it.
The production as a whole was awe inspiring, only let down by the unnecessary measures taken to link performances which would have stood strong and linked easily without them.
Reviewed by Mimi Monteith