From Shore to Shore/Piao Yang Guo Hai promises to be a unique event. Staged in a Chinese restaurant and blending English, Mandarin and Cantonese, it combines theatre, food and live music as it weaves together revealing and moving stories drawn from three different generations of the British Chinese community.
“I first became interested in telling the untold stories of my local Chinese community in 2010 when I was leading The Writers Pathway, a course for emerging Chinese writers run by the Chinese Arts Centre in Manchester, the Arvon Foundation and the University of Bolton,” remembers writer Mary Cooper. She worked on the play for five years with multilingual collaborator M W Sun, a student on the Writers’ Pathway, drawing on the stories of interviewees aged between 14 to 84 in Leeds and Yorkshire.
“The extraordinary stories I heard, stories often hidden even from family members, and the diversity of voices within the Chinese diaspora made me realise how little I knew of the experiences of the Chinese communities in the UK,” she admits. “Despite being the fastest growing ethnic group in the UK, their sometimes extraordinary stories and voices were largely invisible and unvoiced within the cultural mainstream. The play reveals the long-view of migration, one of toil, endurance and success in the UK.”
The new play, featuring seven actors and a musician, has its world premiere at the Oriental City restaurant in Leeds on May 16 and then tours until June 10 to Chinese restaurants including Manchester’s Yang Sing, Tai Pan Oriental Buffet in Liverpool, Palace Garden Restaurant in Newcastle, and Sunrise Chinese Restaurant in York.
“It’s very much a universal piece,” stresses director David K S Tse, of a story which spans a century of Chinese history through its tales of love and loss, struggle and survival. “These are stories about family relationships and the journeys we take in search of a home, or a sense of belonging,” he says. “Some of the stories that were revealed to the writers are incredibly moving. We all come from somewhere, so it’s important for all of us, especially the older generation, to share these stories.”
Food and its relationship to love and survival are important themes in the play so setting the production in a restaurant where the audience actually enjoy a meal enhances and underlines these connections, he points out.
“Everybody goes to have a meal at a Chinese restaurant now and again, but not everybody goes to the theatre, so in part it is also a way to attract new audiences, and not just Chinese audiences. Most British people, unless they somehow know someone from that cultural background, will only ever have a very limited experience of that community through the Chinese takeaway or the Chinese restaurant, whereas this play offers an extraordinary insight into an undiscovered side of Britain’s rich contemporary diversity, reaffirming our common humanity in these divisive times.”
By Kevin Bourke, Theatre Editor
From Shore to Shore/Piao Yang Guo Hai starts its national tour in Leeds at the Oriental City Restaurant (May 16-18) and continues to the Yang Sing, Manchester (May 19-20), Tai Pan Oriental Buffet, Liverpool (May 30-31), Palace Garden Restaurant, Newcastle (June 2, 3 and 6), and Sunrise Chinese Restaurant, York (June 9-10), as well as visiting Oxford, London, Glasgow, and Edinburgh.