Mountains: The Dreams of Lily Kwok review at Royal Exchange, Manchester – ‘vividly realised’
Based on Helen Tse’s family memoir recounting the inspiration behind her Sweet Mandarin Chinese restaurant in Manchester and the three generations of women who made it happen, you could be forgiven for thinking that this was an advert masquerading as a play. But, despite the cookbooks on sale in the foyer and restaurant’s famous green chicken curry being cooked onstage, director Jennifer Tang has crafted a production that stands up as a vividly realised theatrical experience in its own right.
In-Sook Chappell’s cleverly structured adaption has the love of food at its centre, but this is no rosy-spectacled nostalgia trip. We follow Siu-See Hung’s successful but unfulfilled lawyer Helen as she visits her grandmother’s birthplace in Hong Kong for the first time. There an apparition of her ‘popo’ Lily (Tina Chiang) transports her, Christmas Carol-like, from the bustle of modern Hong Kong – arrestingly conjured up by Amy Mae’s neon lights, Elena Pena’s sound and movement director Lucy Cullingford’s fluid corralling of the seven-strong cast – through her tumultuous past.
The story then moves back and forward through the years, as Lily fills in the gaps in Helen’s knowledge of both her family and East Asian history, but never loses its sense of time and place. Some scenes – such as when Lily witnesses the brutality of the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong first hand or is forced to give up a child for adoption – are hard to watch, but the authenticity of the details and the warmth and conviction in which the scenes are played makes for a compelling journey.
We need your help…
When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.
The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.
We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.
Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.