Summer Rolls Review: Park Theatre
PUBLISHED: 15:36 27 June 2019
The first British Vietnamese play, this affecting family drama is a warm and lucid take on the tensions between second generation immigrants and their parents
This affecting family drama arrives at Park Theatre brandishing an impressive calling card as the first ever British Vietnamese play.
It is an effort that has been "seven years in the making'' according to its writer Tuyen Do - judging by the finished product it has been well worth the labour.
''It is better to be the head of a chicken than the tail of a bull" goes the famous East Asian epigram.
It is one retold here by a sharp-tongued Mother (played by Linh-Dan Pham) to her daughter Mai (Anna Nguyen) in an attempt to bring her wayward, errant spirit into order.
Mai is a spunky teenager, for sure, but she is also subjected to the seesaw of puberty and the havoc wreaked by hormones; her head further spinning through additional pressures unique to her.
Namely, whether she should subscribe to the traditions and values of her heritage, both imported and imparted by her parents, or surrender to the peer pressures facing any other English teen.
Mai's mother - outspoken, fiercely opinionated and ferociously quick-witted - toils begrudgingly as a seamstress for her boss and family friend Mr Dinh (David Lee-Jones).
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It will not last long. Competition from China in the manufacturing trades mean that this Vietnamese community must adapt to survive.
Material that speaks authentically about the plights of first and second generation immigrants is guaranteed to pique interest.
The trick in in telling the story to articulate the universal - here the incongruous clash between parents and their offspring.
It must also offer a window into the culturally-specific and Summer Rolls does this adroitly and with beguiling aplomb.
Do's play bites off plenty to chew on over two hours. It is sophisticated enough not to choke on its ambition, and broadly eschews melodrama (despite its slightly wonky opening salvo).
The deadpan, nagging matriarch depicted by Pham is such a magnetic force that she is worthy of her own spin-off.
In fact, this whole work is undercut with impressively lucid writing, and exists as a warm, rich and, above all, hugely satisfying piece of theatre.