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From Shore to Shore review at Oriental City Restaurant, Leeds – ‘smartly staged Chinese-British stories’

Jennifer Leong and Dandan Liu in From Shore to Shore at Oriental City Restaurant, Leeds. Photo: Tony Glossop Jennifer Leong and Dandan Liu in From Shore to Shore at Oriental City Restaurant, Leeds. Photo: Tony Glossop
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Now that China is a major UK commercial investor, this stirring piece of verbatim theatre is a timely reminder of the generations of Chinese immigrants who have invested in this country and made it their home.

Inspired by real lives and performed by seven actors in Chinese restaurants in nine cities across the UK – alongside a menu of “family style” dishes – the entwined multilingual narratives convey a rich flavour of the immigrant experience as spoken to writer Mary Cooper, who spent two years recording the voices of people of Chinese heritage in West Yorkshire – young, old, newly arrived and British-born.

It soon transpires that the play’s dining-out setting is no backdrop. A tofu and seaweed soup starter is interrupted by elderly Mr Chiu popping in to order a home-style dish as a reminder of how food gave him hope when he endured unimaginable hardship as a war child escaping Japanese invaders. “I love England,” he tells us because “I know what it’s like to be starving, I know what it’s like to be fed”.

Food, survival, hard work, assimilation, success and parental ties are clashing, ultimately optimistic, themes running through David KS Tse’s smartly staged, eloquently performed production, told partly in Cantonese and Mandarin, partly in broad Yorkshire.

Angela Chan’s violin score adds atmosphere, and it’s not without humour. The PhD student misusing colloquialisms such as “sparrow’s fart” and third-generation kids unable to speak Mandarin and preferring chips to dim sum speak volumes about the everyday identity struggles that go with moving from one homeland to another.

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Restaurant setting provides more than just a backdrop to stories of the Chinese-British immigrant experience