Chinglish Review

Park Theatre 22 March – 22 April.  Reviewed by Claire Roderick

The European premiere of David Henry Hwang’s Chinglish at the Park theatre is a fast and funny comedy of misunderstandings and misinterpretation.

Guiyang city is building a new cultural centre, and American businessman Daniel (Gyuri Sarossy) is bidding for the contract to provide the signs. Unfortunately, doing business in China is slightly more complicated than in the states; as explained by British consultant Peter (Duncan Harte) it’s all about the guanxi – relationships. The cultural and linguistic differences are explored with sharp wit and the foibles and hypocrisy on both sides are exploited beautifully. The legendary labyrinthine dealings of Chinese business and politics leave Daniel, and the audience, giggling in exasperation and amusement.

Beginning with a presentation of some of the best examples of Chinglish signs from the internet, and explanations of the misinterpretations (it’s all Chairman Mao’s fault apparently), the bilingual production shows Daniel’s various meetings with Ministers and magistrates. These are a full-on laugh-fest of botched translations by wonderfully over the top translators (Siu-see Hung, Windson Liong and Minhee Yeo) providing lines that range between the deadpan overly literal to sexual innuendo as the actual translations are displayed on stage. Minister Cai, a put-upon old-school official (Lobo Chan – in a hysterical performance) and Vice-Minister Xi Yan (Candy Ma) both have their own agendas, and Daniel is caught in the middle. When Daniel and Xi begin an affair, things become more complicated, and more personal.

Candy Ma is fantastic as Xi, making her a strong, modern woman who is trapped by the expectations and obligations of tradition. Her attempts to explain what the bonds of marriage mean in China, and her quiet moments pondering whether she is any different from her grandmother with her bound feet and arranged marriage are very moving. Duncan Harte is impressive in both languages as the lost and slightly manic Englishman seeking a role in a more accessible China now that he “isn’t even that tall anymore”, and Gyuri Sarossy’s Daniel is a sweetly befuddled not-so-innocent abroad.

Director Andrew Keates keeps things tight and fast-paced, thanks in a large part to Tim McQuillen-Wright’s brilliantly multi-functional set. A wall of wooden blocks is transformed into bars, board rooms and hotel rooms by the cast with slick movement and creative lighting – inspired.

Chinglish is a triumph – written, directed and performed with exquisite skill, and most importantly, very, very funny.