Chinglish, Park Theatre

Chinglish, Park Theatre

You know those badly translated Chinese signs you see on the internet, where something inoffensive in Chinese turns out to mean “Fuck Vegetables” in English? That’s the starting point for the Park Theatre’s new play Chinglish.

Daniel Cavanaugh (Gyuri Sarossy), the owner of a well-established family-run sign-making company in Cleveland, Ohio, is pitching to make the English language signs for a new arts centre in the provinces of China. And with help from English teacher turned business consultant Peter Timms (Duncan Harte), he’s got a meeting with Minister Cai Guoliang (Lobo Chan) and his deputy Xi Yan (Candy Ma). Things are looking good. It’s then that he learns the first rule of doing business in China: always bring your own translator. Because if he was relying on hapless government translator Miss Qian (Siu-see Hung) to translate, it’d be no deal.

Soon after, Daniel learns the other rule of doing business in China: it’s about who you know and what side they’re on. And what initially looks like Xi Yan siding against Daniel and Peter to the benefit of the Minister, turns out to be something rather different.

If this all sounds like the sort of story you hear a lot – corruption and intrigue between Chinese government officials and foreign businesspeople – then yes, it is, and a very funny one as well, except writer David Henry Hwang cleverly turns the mirror on the Western world and makes Daniel every bit as deceitful and corrupt as the Chinese officials he’s pitching to. Not that that harms Daniel’s chances of making it in China. Far from it.

Chinglish is a clever and very topical play, performed in both English and Chinese (with English surtitles), which shows as deep an understanding of both Western and Chinese cultures as you’re likely to see on the London stage. The cast give excellent performances, with Candy Ma particularly outstanding as the ambitious Xi Yan, and Siu-see Hung, Windson Liong and Minhee Yeo hilarious as a series of woeful translators. The set is also very clever, and both as simple and complex as anything in the script.

Chinglish is at the Park Theatre until 22nd April.

A Dark Night in Dalston, Park Theatre

A Dark Night in Dalston, Park Theatre

Former nurse Gina couldn’t help it, she just had to help Gideon when she found him dazed and wounded on her Dalston doorstep. And he just had to stay in her flat when it turned dark because it’s Friday and he’s Jewish and he can’t take the train all the way back to Stanmore on shabbat. Especially not in his condition.

The attraction between the two is obvious almost from the beginning, and as this unconventional shabbat progresses, it seems more and more that these two are made for each other.

Gina (Michelle Collins) has kids who won’t speak to her and can’t work as a nurse anymore because she’s too busy caring for her bedridden husband Billy. To say she feels trapped is stating the bleedin’ obvious, although it’s one of the few obviouses she isn’t stating. Gideon (Joe Coen), 27, is engaged to a nice Jewish girl who’s perfect for him but comes regularly to Dalston to have sex with one of Gina’s neighbours. His father won’t allow him to follow his passion for film, so he works as an accountant with men he hates who only talk about football and women.

As their stories emerge throughout the night, escape routes for each of them emerge and are tried. But ultimately, both just need to face up to who they are, what they want to be, and what they can cope with. Gina needs to untangle her feelings for Billy, and Gideon needs to deal, one way or the other, with his family’s expectations and become his own man.

Stewart Permutt’s witty script is full of twists and turns. It deftly hints at what’s to come without spoiling the surprise. Michelle Collins and Joe Coen perform it brilliantly, both creating nuanced, relatable and likable characters. Also worth mentioning is Giles Thomas’ sound design, which cleverly evokes the background hum of bustling, dirty, multicultural Dalston as it changes throughout the night.

As to how it ends, we never quite find out. But this one, dark night is certainly the start of something for Gina and Gideon – whether it’s being together or living their own, happier lives apart.

Coming Clean, Bounds Green

Coming Clean, Bounds Green

Stripping off isn’t generally the first thing you do when you get to work but for naked house cleaner Ethan Mechare that was the point. As to what happened next, well, it could be just about anything. He also did some cleaning sometimes.

In his one-man show Coming Clean, currently being performed in various venues, including a home in Bounds Green, Ethan revisits his experiences working as a naked house cleaner. But first, how did he start out in this?

Ethan was at a loss. He’d moved to London from his native California but didn’t know what to do with himself. In the end, he turned to Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine for some inspirational advice, and he made himself a mood board/vision board/dream board. On his board, he realised, were two things he really loved: naked fun with other guys and spot cleaning. Oh boy, does he love spot cleaning. And so, a small business was born.

Under the name Ernest, he advertised his services, and clients in all their weird and wonderful variety started to book him. There was the guy in the pristine apartment who wanted Ernest to, um, pleasure himself and then clean it all up. There was the 50-something East End cab driver whose wife had recently died, who invited a hot, young “mate” over to join he and Ernest and make it a party. And there was the ex-military South Londoner who also invited a guest, but sadly left Ernest downstairs with the vacuum cleaner.

There was also the man who wanted Ernest to recreate a niche interest video he’d seen on the internet. Ernest declined to do it but Ethan gleefully showed it to us. (If it’s not to your taste you can vote not to watch it, but I suggest that you don’t. It’s less gross than it sounds, and rather charming in its own way.)

Helping Ethan throughout the show is his friend, stage manager, sound effects engineer and snack distributor Cath Royle, a sort of Madge Allsop meets Debbie McGee figure, except she banters back when Ethan mocks her. The dynamic between the two is a perfect combination of bitchy and loving, and Cath’s a great addition to the show.

The masterstroke, though, is performing the show in a house. This is about fantasies where the erotic and the domestic are combined, and perhaps only in someone’s real life, lived in, living room can a group of strangers feel comfortable enough to participate. What are your fantasies, Ethan asks, have they ever been fulfilled, and dare you admit to them? Some did, even if it was just to confess that, being British, some of this is a bit too much for them.

Whatever your fantasy or taste in online videos, this is a life-affirming, funny and thought-provoking show, cleverly put together with director Jill Patterson and well-performed by Ethan Mechare.

Tickets are available via http://comingcleantheshow.com/.

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