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Playwright Tuyen Do: ‘I want to engage a British-Vietnamese community that’s never had theatre aimed at it before’

Tuyen Do Tuyen Do

As an actor, Tuyen Do’s credits include Pah-La at London’s Royal Court and The Great Wave at the National Theatre. She tells Giverny Masso about the responsibility of representing the British Vietnamese community in her debut play, Summer Rolls…

What inspired you to write Summer Rolls?
I was a young actor just a few years out of drama school and a friend of mine took me to a Tamasha scratch night. I’d never heard of Tamasha before, but it was the first time I’d seen stories from an immigrant experience and stories of migration on stage. It had a real, visceral, emotional impact on me and I connected with these stories more than anything I’d ever seen before. It planted the seed in my head of maybe writing something. Then the Unheard Voices Royal Court group was looking for East Asian writers, so I sat down and started writing. It was always from my lived experience – from a British-Vietnamese perspective, which I’d never seen on stage before.

Tell me about the play?
It’s a family drama centred around the younger daughter. It’s a coming-of-age story, set over 15 years, which follows her as she tries to cope with living in two contrasting cultures and with the trauma and secrets that have been brought over from Vietnam. She picks up her camera and starts chronicling her family’s experience and in the end, finds a way of healing through her photography.

How does it feel to have this platform at the Park Theatre?
I feel a responsibility for it being the first full British-Vietnamese production. There have been scratch readings over the last few years, but this play has been seven years in the making. I’ve gone on a journey with it. Not just as an artist, but as a Vietnamese person representing the community. It’s a scary thing to do. I met producer Tuyet Van Huynh – one half of VanThanh Productions, which we set up specifically for Summer Rolls last year. She’s also of Vietnamese heritage and together we’ve gone on this journey of looking at ourselves as British-Vietnamese artists and engaging a community that’s never had theatre aimed at it before. The message of the play is very much bringing together the two generations of British Vietnamese and getting them into the theatre to experience it. With the readings of the play, the Vietnamese audiences that have come have been very moved. I’ve had people come up to me and hug me and say: ‘I’ve never seen my mother on stage before.’

What is your advice to young East Asian writers?
I think artistic integrity is the most important thing to keep hold of as a minority artist. To have faith in your own voice, but also to work hard to always strive for artistic excellence, is how I cope with being a minority actor and writer. It’s learning and a journey and I’m not trying to get anywhere, but I am trying to get better. That’s the advice I always give young actors and writers who come into the industry: the only thing you can do is be as good as you can be.

CV Tuyen Do

Training: Postgraduate acting at Drama Studio London (2007-08) and the Actors’ Temple, London (2009-11)
First professional role: My Dad the Communist (2009)
Agent: Bloomfields Welch Management

Summer Rolls runs at Park Theatre, London from June 24 to July 13. More details: parktheatre.co.uk

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