Pants Theatre Production have revived their 2015 stage adaptation of Helen Tse’s 2007 memoir, Sweet Mandarin: the Courageous True Story of Three Generations of Chinese Women and Their Journey from East to West. An ensemble of six leads us back and forth through a family’s female-led history, from 1925 Guangzhou to 2005 England.
Although Cheang Tik-ki’s adaptation focuses on all the characters, the way Wong Hiu-yee portrays the story of the grandma really stands out. A problem gambler, world-class chef, community celebrity, Wong’s characterisation somehow manages all these complex elements into a sparky performance that gets the biggest laughs of the night. The only strange choice is why such a young actor has been cast to play an 85-year-old: it feels like a lost opportunity.
To accommodate the constant shifts in time and location, director Wu Ho-fai places the action on a giant, wooden, non-rotating lazy susan, with simple but effective lighting (Ling Cheng), and no other set constraints (Suen Wing-kwan). Ho Tsz-yeung’s subtle, evocative music (pre-recorded) lifts the play to another level.
Although the dialogue moves back and forth between English and Cantonese, with bilingual subtitles, this is not necessarily a recommended production for English-language speakers. At nearly two and a half hours, with no interval, the English translation of the Cantonese comes across as, at times, absurdly simplistic and circuitous. Non-Cantonese speakers are also unlikely to understand first-hand the impact that historic emigration has on a family unit, which the play appears to assume of its audience. A bold attempt to adapt this sweeping memoir for the stage nonetheless.
Playing three performances only, 9 – 11 October 2020. 9 – 11 October 2020..