Review: Mountains – The Dreams of Lily Kwok, Stratford Circus

Beautiful and brutal, Mountains – The Dreams of Lily Kwok plays Stratford Circus before continuing on a tour of the UK

I invited you into my past… And you invited me into your future

It’s always a pleasure to investigate East Asian stories on our stages, an occurrence that remains all too rare in British theatres. This Royal Exchange Theatre, Yellow Earth and Black Theatre Live co-production goes some small way to address that, embarking on a UK tour after a successful run in Manchester and you hope it encourages similar work of this quality.

Based on Helen Tse’s memoir Sweet Mandarin, In-Sook Chappell’s  Mountains – The Dreams of Lily Kwok probes into the family history of the three generations of women behind the famous Manchester restaurant also named Sweet Mandarin. With food, and a love of food, at its centre, it is a frank and sometimes brutal exploration of East Asian history, viewed through the prism of the individual.

Chappell skips around through time as she brings together Mancunian lawyer Helen and her Chinese grandmother Lily in Hong Kong, the city where the former has moved to work and where the latter left to better her lot. Siu-See Hung and Tina Chiang play this complex relationship beautifully as painful secrets are unearthed, shocking realities revealed, inner strengths located and utilised to their fullest.

As with The Great Wave, there’s a powerful sense of a history that needs to be shared, one which isn’t taught in our classrooms or shown in our period dramas. And Jennifer Tang’s production is careful to balance Mountains‘ innate seriousness and tragedy with a warmth and humanity that makes it truly engaging. 

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Photo: Jonathan Keenan
Mountains – The Dreams of Lily Kwok is booking at Stratford Circus until 21st April and then touring to
Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds 24 – 25 Apr
Lighthouse, Poole 27 – 28 Apr
Key Theatre, Peterborough 1 – 2 May
Theatre Royal Margate 5 May
Derby Theatre 10 – 12 May
Watford Palace Theatre 16 – 19 May
Sheffield Crucible Theatre 21 – 23 May
Queen’s Hall Arts Centre, Hexham 24 – 25 May
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry 30 May – 2 June

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