Tasty morsels to take away

Dim Sum Nights

Birmingham Rep

Ming Moon Restaurant, Birmingham

*****

IF YOU follow theatrical trends, you will have come across the term Site –Specific and indeed you may have even attended such a performance. In recent times though it seems that this broad title has come to mean anything that is not `staged in a theatre. ‘

Old cellars, disused buildings etc have all become the unlikely setting for those seeking to produce a new immersive theatre experience.  For those however used to a more formal setting once  the novelty passes  you are often left just wanting  a comfy chair and a warm room which is, still for most,  all that's  needed to ` enjoy' a play.

This, thankfully, is why Dim Sum Nights works so beautifully as besides some outstanding performances you not only get a chair and a warm room but food to go with them.

The Ming Moon restaurant may have been a relevant location for the Yellow Earth company and this collection of catering based  tales but the principal drawback on the night was the constant level of noise from a hundred or so diners busy tucking in on the other side of the curtained off performance area.  

It took all the skill of the actors to overcome this and whilst Dim Sum Nights can be said to be `site specific ‘I could have easily enjoyed this in the quieter back room of any pub.  What makes their work unique is that integral to the company's adaptation of both established works and the development of new writing, is a sense of education in reflecting Asian culture within and with a western audience. 

Tina Chiang who is both touching and funny as the waitress in Butterfly

Featuring six ndividual pieces, all set within a Chinese restaurant, we began with Butterfly. This was an introductory monologue written by Jeremy Tiang about a waitress played by Tina Chiang who also became our host for the evening.

Next came Nui Ah by Thanh Le Dang. A once starving and exiled couple Ma and Ba, played brilliantly by Louise Mai Newberry and Matthew Leonhart are living with the memory of an act of cannibalism. It also featured Jennifer Tan playing the mysterious disembodied sprit.  

This was followed by The Clean Up by Victoria Shepherd. At the end of an evening a Chinese boy fails to see why the girl he is chatting up is waiting for her father to assist her. Oliver Biles and Jennifer Tan again, play out this bittersweet tale. This was followed by a first reading of Insufficiently Yellow by Birmingham based Tina Freeth. Freeth, who is of Chinese origin, was adopted in 1985 by a local couple and so her work seemed incredibly personal being that of a young woman meeting her Asian biological mother for the first time.

Yam Sing by Simon Wu is the story of the unlikely bond that two uninvited guests share at a wedding, and gave both Leonhart and Biles acres of room to show off their talent whilst explaining the traditional thinking behind Chinese cuisine.

Finally NightHawks by Clare Sumi is a sprawling `Tarentino style' hold up of a deserted late night American Chinese restaurant. This was by far the longest and most ambitious piece of the evening and in comparison could have lost five minutes in running time and would have still been as effective.

Overall this was a superb night of non-theatre and in the end the professionalism and power of all involved reduced any of the location issues to post performance insignificance.

I have struggled here to not make the obvious references to food and the location as an easy way to describe Dim Sum Nights.  I do finally have to succumb and say that like the old gag about wanting another Chinese meal as soon as you have eaten one, I could quite easily have consumed a few more theatrical servings here and was genuinely left hungry for more.  To 15-11-12

Jeff Grant 

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