Forgotten review at Arcola Theatre, London – ‘generous and expansive’
Daniel York Loh’s study of the 140,000 Chinese Labour Corps who worked tirelessly for Britain during the First World War is a rhythmic and expansive piece of theatre which showcases the best of (often underestimated) British East Asian talent.
Forgotten tells the story of Big Dog (Camille Mallet De Chauny), Eunuch Lin (Zachary Hing) and Old Six (Michael Phong Le), three downtrodden peasants from Shandong Province who grasp at the opportunity to become part of something bigger, much to the chagrin of Old Six’s wife, Second Moon (Rebecca Boey).
Despite the piece’s dense content, there is a core of tenderness and generosity to York Loh’s writing which transcends occasional lapses into overtly expositional dialogue (something which is perhaps inevitable in a historical epic).
Though the play switches tones and styles rapidly – from naturalistic fragments of dialogue to broad, expressionistic movement (choreographed by Quang Kien Van), and aided by Jessica Hung Han Yun’s thoughtful lighting design, it’s to director Kim Pearce’s credit that Forgotten never feels uneven, but is rather absolutely precise in its intention.
Pearce’s direction is empathetic, emphasising and rooting the interpersonal relationships at the heart of the piece. And although the performances from the ensemble are uniformly strong, Rebecca Boey as Second Moon and Leo Wan as the Professor give beautifully rich performances which simmer with pain and anger.
It’s an ornately layered epic which manages to carry itself delicately despite the righteous fury which rumbles beneath the surface. This is a play which demonstrates an acutely raw understanding of how Western institutions exploit and grind non-white bodies to the bone.