Currently producing new play Under the Umbrella, based on her own idea and written by Amy Ng, Lian Wilkinson tells Giverny Masso how it is inspired by China’s real-life marriage markets…
What is the play about?
Under the Umbrella is an all-female play about a Chinese woman called Wei who is studying in Coventry while her mother and grandmother live in Guangzhou in China. Wei has turned 27, and there is a Chinese word, ‘shengnu’, which describes women in their late 20s who are seen as ‘leftover women’ or past their sell-by-date. Wei’s mother and grandmother go to the Chinese marriage markets, where parents take photos of their child and pin their profile on an umbrella. It’s like a real-life Tinder. The story is about Wei negotiating her life in the UK and pressures from home.
What inspired you to create this show?
I saw a video that went viral in 2016 about the marriage markets. There’s an interview with one parent saying that her daughter not getting married is so heartbreaking it’s almost like an illness. There are also daughters describing how they feel. It’s something that really struck me because it’s such a phenomenon in China – but here in the UK we haven’t heard of it. It resonated with me because it’s a direct result of the one-child policy. There was a strong preference for having male children, which led to such a gender imbalance. Now there are many more men than women, but women are suffering because anyone over the age of 30 is considered not worth marrying.
How did you get into theatre?
It’s a long story: I wasn’t intending to get into theatre – it was a hobby I did. I was focusing on becoming a translator after school and university. However, I loved being on the stage-management team for theatre shows and operating lights, and I volunteered during the 2012 Paralympics and Olympic Games. I then went back to uni and studied French and German, and during my year abroad I worked as a theatre technician at the Comedia theatre in Cologne, Germany. I worked on something like 600 shows across the year. After that, I worked for English Touring Theatre as a production intern.
What is a creative producer?
The job title describes my involvement in getting the story and play together. All producers have a creative input: the role of producer is one of the most varied in theatre. So many theatremakers who see themselves as actors and writers have to step into the role of producer to get their work on. I am doing this production as part of Tamasha’s Sustained Theatre Regional Associate Producers programme, which is funded by Arts Council England for BAME producers to work in regional theatres. Tamasha artistic director Fin Kennedy said the two great roles of theatre that will help improve diversity are the writers that write the work and the producers that put the writers on. Producers are the ones who are there from right at the beginning to the very end.
Under the Umbrella runs at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre from March 2 to 16.
Training: Tamasha’s Sustained Theatre Regional Associate Producers programme (2017)
First professional role: Theatre technician at the Comedia theatre in Cologne, Germany (2014)