Bread and Roses Theatre – until 27 October
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Food, family, romance and music – the perfect ingredients for this charming show from Divergent Theatre Collective.
British Jamaican Camilla Morgan (Melissa Park) and British Chinese Yi Chen (Jarrod Lee) share a passion for food, with Camilla being a regular visitor to Yi’s parents’ Chinese restaurant. Yi knows her order by heart and becomes a grinning idiot whenever she is near. But Camilla is fascinated by Big Yi – a vlogger with a fusion cooking show experimenting with Jamaican/Chinese food. When Yi builds up the courage to suggest the two of them try a “fusion thing” Camilla laughs him off, unaware that Yi is actually Big Yi. The awkwardness and humour of their developing relationship is played out alongside their clashes with their families over their careers.
Both families have an older child who is held up as the ideal role model for the younger sibling and, on the surface, has the professional success and freedom their parents dreamt of for them when they came to the UK. Camilla’s parents Monica and Desmond (Andrea Leslie and Daniel Grant) are proud of architect Sinclair (never seen onstage in a lovely running joke) and his fiancée Rosina (Rochelle Thomas), while Yi’s older brother is successful and has provided a grandchild for Mei and Jian (Susan Mitchell and Sok-ho Trinh). Teacher Camilla and trainee accountant Yi both dream of being chefs, which goes down like a lead balloon with both families.
Writer Lorna Wells has created instantly recognisable but not caricatured, families in this culture clash comedy. Leslie and Grant are a hoot as they despair over Camilla and long for a little house back home in Jamaica while Trinh’s constant appeasement of Mitchell’s constantly disappointed and disdainful Mei is comedy gold. Wells doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of living in the UK, with the Morgans sharing jokes and stories resignedly about their experiences of racism. Most of their true feelings about life are, in true musical theatre style, expressed through song – which works brilliantly as they keep up their cheerful facades for each other.
Eudora Yutong Qiao’s music and Lorna Wells’ lyrics are catchy and fun, fusing cultural influences and moving the plot forward, and sung beautifully by the talented cast. There’s even room for a little choreography on the tiny stage, with the Morgan’s home on one side, the Chen’s on the other, and Chen’s café taking centre stage. The homes and costumes are colour coded to show the strength of the families’ cultural identity, and director Roman Berry’s assured direction ensures the fast-moving story never loses its emotional clout. The emotional pull and comfort of food, home, family and cultural identity are portrayed joyfully, while also tackling the pressures and guilt of parental expectation and the barriers put up for self-protection and survival in an unfair and prejudiced world in a sensitive, realistic and unsensational manner.
The entire cast give wonderful performances, but the two young leads are surely names to look out for in the future. Melissa Parke and Jarrod Lee both have voices to die for and have glorious chemistry and charisma.
It Tastes Like Home is simply a delight – an exuberant celebration of family, culture and food that will warm your heart and set your stomach rumbling. It’s only on for another week – so grab a ticket while you can.