Thursday, April 6, 2017

Review: 'Chinglish' at Park Theatre, 5th April 2017

Chinglish reviewed by David James

Rating: 4 Stars

Two smart businessmen how to say different options, you can compete for top level transactions? Clear enough, right? Ah damn, what I wanted to say was 'How do businessmen who speak different languages negotiate deals with one another?' but, understandably, it gets garbled in (Google) translation. This muddling of words is the nub of Chinglish, a very funny clash of cultures farce that opened last week at Park Theatre.

Originally staged on Broadway in 2011, David Henry Hwang's play opens with a businessman giving a seminar on doing business in China. This is Daniel (Gyuri Sarossy), representing Ohio Signage, a firm with ambitions to tap into the Chinese construction boom by promising that their translations will avoid awkward/funny meme-friendly mistranslations like "deformed man toilet" instead of "disabled toilet".

Standing in his way is the regional Minister for Culture Cia Guoliang (Lobo Chan) and his Vice-Minister Xi Lin (Candy Ma). Dealing with Chinese officials whilst not speaking a word of the language proves to be a deeply confusing experience, the conversation surreally swerving between topics with no apparent rhyme or reason. Fortunately, Daniel has employed the skills of English immigrant Peter (Duncan Harte), to guide him through this unfamiliar morass of business customs.

Over two hours, the play twists and turns as misunderstandings pile up upon one another with increasingly funny results. On paper, the troubles of a failing sign manufacturer, the vagaries of Chinese business and gags about economics don't sound like particularly fruitful comedic territory, but Hwang's play draws a near constant stream of giggles from the audience.

The lion's share of these laughs are down to the mismatch between what the characters want to say and the surtitles projected above their heads. You might think that the straightforward gag of someone saying, for example, "I love you" and reading that what they've actually said is "cold sea mud" or "my fifth aunt" would diminish over the course of the play. It doesn't.

This is aided by a cast that has the intimidating job of having to be funny in two languages at once, with most of their performance unintelligible to the vast majority of a London audience. The stand out is Candy Ma, who is not just hilarious, but weaves in some emotive strands of isolation and longing into her character. Watching her gently alter her demeanour and body language depending on the situation she's in communicates precisely what her character is about, despite her tendency to angrily yell at people in fast-paced Chinese.

Running underneath all this is a critique of the differing economic strategies of China and the US. The spectre of Enron (and the 2008 economic crisis) haunts the latter half of the play - the behaviour of Kenneth Lay et al being treated more as modern business mythology in China than as a disgrace. By the end, we've realised that Chinglish presents us with a confusing paradox - the surface level behavioural conflicts between East and West are not as forbidding as they initially seem, but the deeper, ingrained cultural philosophy is almost irreconcilable.

Pondering aside, Chinglish is a pleasantly open comedy with an appropriately light touch. My barometer of good comedy is whether it gets three genuine laughs from me - this play had achieved that by the first scene change. This might not be breaking new comedic ground, but I left smiling.

Chinglish is at Park Theatre until 22 April. Tickets here.

Tags: , , , , , ,

0 Responses to “Review: 'Chinglish' at Park Theatre, 5th April 2017”

Post a Comment

© All articles copyright LONDON CITY NIGHTS.
Designed by SpicyTricks, modified by LondonCityNights