Tuesday, 4 April 2017

REVIEW: Chinglish at Park Theatre

Winner of The Stage's Fringe Venue of the Year 2015 and aptly described as 'a neighbourhood theatre with global ambition', Park Theatre was a lovely surprise. Its brand-new interiors and quirky layout on split floors have all the features of a professional theatre but the warm and welcoming vibe of a community venue. Open since 2013 and committed to a mix of new writing, classics and revivals, the venue has quickly gained a prestigious reputation, thanks to three West End transfers, two National Theatre transfers and three national tours of its productions. The main thing to keep in mind when booking tickets is that that the second-row benches of the circle (in the main auditorium) take the concept of 'perching' to a whole new level and you should avoid them if you don't feel comfortable with heights.

Written in English and Mandarin by Tony Award winner David Henry Hwang, Chinglish is a witty comedy on the obstacles of cross-cultural communication and the unpredictable consequences of translation faux-pas. Although some of its outcomes might appear quite simplified and relying on clich├ęs, I sympathised entirely with the topic, which I experienced personally when I first arrived in the UK and I wasn't able to speak English.

'The first rule of doing business in China is also the last. Always bring your own translator' says the protagonist Daniel Cavanaugh (Gyuri Sarossy) in the opening scene. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Daniel attempts to rescue his father's signage factory from a financial crisis and, to do so, he ventures into the Chinese market. Knowing that Guiyang aims to become a big cultural centre for international tourists and expecting a high-demand for signs translated in English, he decides to take his proposal directly to the Minister of Culture Cai Guoliang (Lobo Chan). Before the meeting, Daniel receives a briefing on the local customs by Peter (Duncan Harte), an English teacher who has been living in the country for eleven years, who informs him on the merely advisory nature of the law, according to the Chinese mentality. Initially, the pitch is a disaster – due in part to the incompetence of the Minister's interpreter (Siu-see Hung) – nonetheless, the Vice-Minister Miss Zhao (Candy Ma) seems particularly keen to help the honest American . . . 

Gyuri Sarossy is sweet in the role of Daniel and is supported by a skilled cast of bilingual actors, whose parts in Mandarin are surtitled and whose broken English sounds absolutely realistic. 

Tim McQuillen-Wright's set follows a beautiful and functional concept. Looking like a gigantic Rubik's Cube against the back wall, its square wooden panels can be opened and closed by the cast to create the different environments of the play, with a remarkable economy of space and resources.

Cute and entertaining, Chinglish might resent a shallow plot and an approximate characters' development but, as a light-hearted comedy, it depicts with intelligence and irony some of the challenges of multiculturalism and globalisation, to which we can all easily relate. 

Review by Marianna Meloni

Rating: ★★★★
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