Writers: Mary Cooper and MW Sun
Composer: Nicola Chang
Director: David K S Tse
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
From Shore to Shore has a sense of ‘‘come for the food but stay for the play’’. Even someone with little interest in the niceties of dining out will be aware that Manchester’s Yang Sing Restaurant has a reputation for quality so the offer of a two-course meal along and a play is hard to resist. The setting, with live music playing in the background and the chance to chat with fellow diners, is warm and communal which is perfect for a play in which family and friends are essential ingredients.
The script by Mary Cooper and MW Sun is based on true-life stories of Chinese people from Leeds and West Yorkshire but From Shore to Shore is not verbatim theatre. The tales have been skilfully interwoven to lead to a very satisfying conclusion building surprising links between the three separate storylines.
During the Second World War a child, Cheung Wing (Matt Lim and Ozzie Yue), becomes separated from his mother while fleeing Japanese soldiers and begins a journey that takes him through slavery to being reunited with his mother in Hong Kong and eventually to Leeds. Mei Lan (Michelle Yim) works ceaselessly for her family and is forced to consider the different attitudes of her culture as to whether parents should care for their children or the reverse when she has to confront her mother’s gambling addiction. Yi Di (Luna Di), who left her homeland to escape the perpetual disappointment of her father, who could never forgive her for failing to be a boy, now has to consider whether her son should be raised to meet her father’s standards or her own.
Despite the restaurant setting and the fact most of the characters at some point are employed in the food industry, the play does not romanticise food. Tributes are not paid to the aroma or flavour of food but rather to the sheer hard work involved in its production – Mei Lan is clearly fed up to death of peeling potatoes. Food is simply a means of survival – either as a way of gaining employment, enduring harsh working conditions or helping ungrateful parents.
From Shore to Shore is a strikingly positive play. All of the characters face hardship in some form but refuse to despair. Resolution to continue rather than optimism pushes the characters onwards- giving up is never considered. Ozzie Yue, who plays the aged Cheung Wing has a sparkling outlook as he reviews his life including the period when he was kidnapped from his mother and forced to work for strangers. There is only a single report of overt racism and all of the characters are determined to fit into their new homeland. Luna Di’s studious Mei Lan goes so far as to record phrases she finds puzzling to look them up at leisure.
The play does not shy away from the contradictions in Chinese culture. The aged matriarch is venerated and able to treat her grandchildren like servants but the birth of a baby girl, rather than a boy, is regarded as a disaster.
Director David K S Tse does not let the unconventional venue place limitations on the imaginative staging. Reflecting the confusion and chaotic lifestyle of some of the characters the play opens with fragments of the stories over-lapping. Ozzie Yue wistfully narrates the life story of Cheung Wing while Matt Lim physically enacts the tale demonstrating how memory can sweeten traumatic events.
With fine food and a gentle thought-provoking play From Shore to Shore is a delicious feast.
Runs until 16th March 2019 | Image: Ian Glover