Anna Chen – 25 June 2013
My column for the South China Morning Post magazine 9th June 2013.
City scope: Chinese bask in the summer limelight
Anna Chen in London
Following one of the longest winters on record here, I’ve emerged blinking into the light to find my hometown has become a hot spot for Chinese diaspora theatre. An eruption of British East Asian talent on stage this summer is finally putting paid to the notion that Pacific Rimmers can play only one-dimensional, buck-toothed, orientalist monsters.
As the bass rumblings of theatre-industry initiatives and the clamour of international protest (prompted by the British East Asian Artists’ objections to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s casting of The Orphan of Zhao with predominantly non-Asians) have risen to a crescendo, the resulting pyroclastic flow of productions has been hard to ignore. Highlights have included Border Crossings’ stylish love story Consumed, set in Shanghai; and Howard Brenton’s #aiww: The Arrest of Ai Weiwei (featured in an earlier column) at the Hampstead Theatre and streamed live over the internet. The most exciting of them all, however, has been the British premiere of David Henry Hwang’s comedy Yellow Face, which last month launched London’s newest venue, the Park Theatre.
Elegantly, but devastatingly, Yellow Face lampoons Western popular culture’s embedded assumptions about white superiority, all served in the round by a seven-strong cast that includes David Yip – he of British television’s The Chinese Detective fame – and the beautiful Gemma Chan.
The arrival in London of not only Yellow Face but Hwang, two decades after his mega-hit M. Butterfly – a Tony Award-winner on Broadway, New York – took London by storm, has been greeted by squeals of delight.
With all his accolades and achievements as a leading American playwright, Hwang is our Yoda, our pole star; living proof that we – the Chinese diaspora – exist. Yes, we knew it all along, but The Establishment didn’t.
Children have been born and grown up since Anthony Hopkins and Glen Goei frolicked in the M. Butterfly limelight all those years ago. Now, a new generation of young, savvy East Asian audiences are flocking.
Park Theatre on press night was the place to be if you were a British East Asian creative type. Champagne flowed, oiling the sense of excitement and relief that the production of excellent drama could be as natural and normal an activity for Chinese as plotting to take over the world.