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  • Writer's pictureEstelle Luck

REVIEW: THE DAO OF UNREPRESENTATIVE BRITISH CHINESE EXPERIENCE @ SOHO THEATRE

🎭 The Dao of Unrepresentative British Chinese Experience

📍 Soho Theatre, 21 Dean Street, London, W1D 3NE

🗓 Friday 21st June 2024

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


A BOLD, COMPLEX MUSICAL EXPLORATION OF IDENTITY AND BELONGING


As I waited in the Soho Theatre bar on Friday night, programme in hand, I was curious about what would unfold in Daniel York Loh’s self-described “psychedelic gig-theatrical punk pop rap rock riff on what it means to be an outsider in a world of identity politics.” It didn’t take long after the play began to realize it was going to live up to that description.


This refreshing production plays with form, using different mediums of storytelling and unraveling the conventional linear narrative. We experience music in many forms—punk, pop, rap, and rock—as well as poetry, dream-like sequences, and vivid, visceral retellings of various traumatic points in Cloud, the protagonist’s, life. These include incidents of racial abuse, both physical and verbal, drug use, petty crime, and the later search for identity, which is aided through the theatre.


Cloud is portrayed at different points by the entire acting ensemble: Daniel York Loh, Melody Chikakane Brown, and Aruhan Galieva. At one point, the protagonist speaks to a sage called Master Obscure. Cloud tells Master Obscure that they want to narrate the definitive British Chinese story, and they begin reeling off an archetypal narrative about being a high-achieving student on track for a well-paid job and having dim sum with their father on Sundays. However, this story is soon dismantled and called out as a lie by Master Obscure. The play, in both form and content, deconstructs this stereotype and highlights the nuances of being a British Chinese individual.


Despite dealing with substantial themes in its 110-minute runtime, the play invites a few laughs along the way. Just before the interval, for example, we learn about the brutal and heartbreaking way Cloud’s tooth becomes cracked, which segues into a ballad about how it can be repaired by an NHS dentist. Cloud describes this as a period drama, set in a time when it was possible to find a dentist on the NHS. The mismatch between the lyrics and the powerful delivery by Aruhan Galieva provides light relief after a sad scene.


Throughout the play, moving images are projected on the panels behind the actors. We see a children’s playground at the start, blurred cars rushing past during Cloud’s dalliance with petty crime, and the Garden of Harmony. These images, presented blurrily, contribute to the confusing and sometimes dizzying form of the play.


Cloud’s childhood headmaster, Father McNamara, appears a few times as a distant yet imposing figure behind a curtain. The lighting enhances his shadowy presence, and his lines echoing through the speakers bring this voice in Cloud’s head to life.


The most poignant part of the play for me was Cloud’s school trip to Chinatown. Cloud recounts the excitement of going ‘home’ to be around people who looked like them, only to feel more out of place than ever. Both the language and the food are unfamiliar. The character realizes how much they long to feel at home but that they struggle to find it anywhere.


The talented ensemble is clearly passionate about the story they’re telling and give it their all, especially during the musical numbers. Galieva has an impressive range, captivating the audience with their ballad-style songs and at different points effortlessly switching to rap.


It’s true that the play’s complexity and non-linear structure can be disorienting at times. And this, coupled with the exploration of complex concepts such as dao and the inclusion of Chinese mythology throughout sometimes made it hard to follow. It made me wish I’d done a bit more pre-theatre reading. But despite the occasional confusion, the depth of the themes explored and the passion evident in every aspect of the production make it a compelling piece of theatre. York Loh’s writing shines in its boldness and originality, pushing the boundaries of traditional theatre.


Overall, this production is a must-see for anyone interested in innovative theatre that delves deeply into themes of identity, culture, and belonging. It is a vibrant and poignant reminder of the power of storytelling in navigating and understanding the complexities of the human experience.


Estelle Luck


All views are my own and I pride myself on being honest, fair and free from influence. Theatre is subjective and it is important to remember that all views expressed are just those of one reviewer.


My ticket for this performance of The Dao of Unrepresentative British Chinese Experience was gifted by Chloé Nelkin Consulting who invited me to watch the show on behalf of Pink Prince Theatre in exchange for my honest review. The fact that my ticket was gifted played no part in the content of my review or the star rating given.



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