Friday, 15 March 2019

REVIEW: From Shore To Shore - Yang Sing Restaurant, Manchester

‘From Shore To Shore’ [subtitled '3 stories, 3 lives, 3 journeys to find a place called home'] is a play with music; it is also a touching emotional experience which follows the turbulent history of China during the 20th century as a backdrop to the lives of three people living in present day Leeds, each calling England home, whilst having a deep sense of their Chinese identity. There are echoes of Jung Chang’s ‘Wild Swans’ and even the film ‘The Last Emperor’ as the horrors of the Japanese invasion of the 1930’s, the 1949 Civil War and the Cultural Revolution are all shown to have helped mould the Chinese psyche. Ultimately however, this is a hopeful story about new lives and new dreams as China and England find a shared identity. For myself as the reviewer, the play also resonated on a personal level since I have a sister-in-law from Beijing and half-Chinese nephews.

With no staging but plenty of small props and accessories, numerous scenes were brought to life with vibrant intensity and the audience was completely drawn into three very different life stories; Cheung Wing escaping from war, Mei Lan waning to better herself and Yi Di desperate for her parent's approval. Several other issues are explored such as the effect of the one-child policy, acceptance of Christianity and racist attitudes but each is shown in very personal terms. The brilliance of the play is to cover a wide range of national aspects whilst never losing the individuality of the three stories.
The presentation inside a Chinese restaurant worked very well because the audience find themselves initially in a Chinese cultural environments as popularly perceived only to be progressively taken inside the real China. In the opening lines, we were reminded that what we perceive as ‘the Chinese’ are in fact several different peoples, with varied languages and cultures. Similarly, the protagonists discovered that England itself has considerable regional variations, again in both language and culture. There really was something for everyone to take from the show.

The play is appropriately a collaboration between two English and Chinese writers, Mary Cooper and M.W. Sun, with the impressive cast of seven variously born in either the UK or different parts of China. Ozzie Yue as ‘Old Cheung Wing’ gave a charming performance as an old man looking back on his life, often in very effective scenes viewing Matt Lim (as his younger-self). Michelle Yim as Mei Lan convincingly brought over the struggles of building a new life in a far-away country (including racial prejudice), and there was real feeling in Luna Dai’s portrayal of Yi Di, whose parents, like many others of their generation, had hoped for a boy. Alice Lee and Lucy Lan Luo both were adept in playing a variety of roles so that there was an overall feel of a very real insight into Chinese life in the 20th century. All in all, a strong cast who worked excellently together.

So much more could be said about this piece than the space of a review allows. An audience member (with no Chinese associations) confided that the play had moved her to tears but it must be iterated that ‘From Shore To Shore’ is not just a powerful drama but a very, positive play and a splendid achievement. This reviewer would certainly defy anybody to go and see the show and not feel the better for having done so.

Reviewer - John Waterhouse
on - 14/3/19

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