Review: Overheard, Chinese Arts Now at Wun’s Tea Room & Bar

Come for the theatre, stay for the cocktails and dumplings. Overheard does immersive theatre right at Wun’s Tea Room & Bar

“How hot is hot? Is it like western hot or Asian hot?”

The illicit pleasure of listening in on the conversations around you is one which never grows old and it is one that the Chinese Arts Now Festival seems keen to encourage. 2018 saw a production of Ming Ho’s Citizens of Nowhere? which gave us headphones to eavesdrop on a family reunion in the lobby of the Southbank Centre and using similar technology, you can now experience Joel Tan’s Overheard at Wun’s Tea Room & Bar.

At a time when the term immersive is abused so freely when describing theatre, it is a lovely surprise when a production actually gets it this right. Wun’s Tea Room remains open to customers while the show is happening so there’s a real sense of hustle and bustle around you as the wait staff slip between the tables of this atmospheric cocktail bar and restaurant (you can add food and drink to your ticket – I’d recommend the loquat and plum wine cocktail and chilli sesame dumplings!).

And as you slip your headphones on, you clock that you can hear some women talking, just sat on that table over there, and so the world of Overheard truly begins. It actually takes the form of three short plays, reflecting the breadth of what Tan’s writing is trying achieve, in representing the enormity and diversity in what we might too easily just term ‘Chinese’. And directed by Mingyu Lin, it offers up much food for thought (if not the Iberico char siu).

 From the Hong Kong protests to caring for your elders, second-generation imposter syndrome to straight up xenophobia, this triptych covers a huge amount of ground as it explores just how divergent being Chinese can be. From Beijingers to Singaporeans, artists to businesswomen, Tan probes intelligently at the complexity of these inter-relationships and the varying power balances that they inhabit, the preconceptions that underlie them too.

Jennifer Lim, Alice Lee and Shuang Teng all impress in their varying roles and there’s something fascinating about the boldness with which Overheard scythes into commonly held assumptions, both by its characters and by ourselves. My only small complaint is that the format means that each play feels as if it is over as soon as it begins, but being left wanting more isn’t always a bad thing. 

Running time: 45 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Lidia Crisafulli
Overheard is booking as part of the Chinese Arts Now Festival at Wun’s Tea Room & Bar until 23rd February

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