Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 26 November 2012

Dim Sum Nights

Artsdepot ⋄ 22nd - 23rd November 2012

A serving of British East Asian theatre.

Alice Saville

Chinese restaurants are ubiquitous, all-Chinese casts and writers rather less so, the mammoth scale of the Young Vic’s recent Wild Swans adaptation excepted. Dim Sum Nights brilliantly plays on the familiar mechanics of a meal out to present a menu of short plays that function around communal eating, from a wedding to a party to an awkward date night.

Audience members balance greed and politeness in assembling a plate of dumplings; elsewhere in this touring production’s run, the evening’s convivial feeling has been extended by using a cabaret bar or restaurant setting, but here, the atmosphere is evoked by a red backdrop with the glowing allure of Chinatown at night.

Tina Chiang’s compère-come-waitress determinedly sticks the pieces together into a cohesive whole with a glue of breezy charm, set changing table clearing and slightly unnecessary plot summaries; the evening feels seamless, but sometimes the atmospheres the plays create could be allowed to linger a little longer before being swept away with the dishes.

Nui Ah, by Thanh Ledang, takes a bold and surreal approach to Chinese history as the only piece to depart from the present day; more warmth and detail in the central couple’s relationship could help strengthen its emotional heft, which as written was best realised in their joint rendition of a Revolutionary-era song. Victoria Shepherd’s The Clean-Up has a televisual feel, a romance between teenagers with a well-handled twist that nonetheless fails to lift it from its insipid territory. Yam Sing is perhaps the strongest piece in its current form; set at a Chinese wedding, two men enviously or bitterly look on as their former lovers celebrate their union with an elaborate, multi-coursed feast. Making full use of the evening’s theme, explanations of the symbolism of the food served pepper the narrative, the men’s relationship deepening as they at first fight over then share the constantly replenished dishes.

The final play, Clare Sumi’s Nighthawks, is both more ambitious and less cohesive than the others, a hold-up scenario at the mercy of Matthew Leonhart’s depressive, desperate anti-hero, offering a nuanced performance with complexities not always found elsewhere. Pacy and sharp, Louise Mai Newberry and Tina Chiang excel as a double act, with jewellery-shaking, hand-fluttering panic colliding with the waitress’s steely pragmatism.

Though the tone of the pieces varies dramatically, they share a loud, bright style of performance that sometimes borders on the stylised, and is possibly better suited to its usual site-specific or cabaret format than to the traditional staging of Artsdepot. As a response to the challenge of unifying short plays by different writers, though, the approach is a success, producing a slickly served, fun evening without sacrificing green tea-nursing warmth and authenticity.

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Alice Saville

Alice is editor of Exeunt, as well as working as a freelance arts journalist for publications including Time Out, Fest and Auditorium magazine. Follow her on Twitter @Raddington_B

Dim Sum Nights Show Info


Produced by Yellow Earth

Link http://www.yellowearth.org

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