Where is all the Chinese Theatre?

2 12 2009

I have just come home from a Theatre Criticism class at my university (for those who do not know, Royal Holloway). Some how, we spent most of the two hours discussing the issues of race, cultures and framing ethic minorities within a particular “bubble”. Coming out of class and wondering about the “Not Black and White” showcase at the Tricycle Theatre, I’d like to go into another debate. If you’re thinking “oh dear god, not another one”, well, I’m going to raise something that I don’t think ever gets mentioned, Chinese Theatre in the UK.

I maybe ignorant with my extent of knowledge in the area but hold on for a second, I do know some things…

Yellow Earth is the only theatre company that comes into my mind when I say Chinese theatre company. Well… they are inclusive of all “british eastern-asian” actors, directors, etc. but are there any other people? I tried searching and I am having a hard time finding any other company that predominately do “eastern asian” theatre in the UK. (So don’t say to me Tara Arts because apparently that doesn’t count, that’s just Asian in England…)King Lear by Yellow Earth Theatre

I found “The Chinese Dance and Mime Theatre Company” who are a big part of spreading the word of the Chinese style and culture with funding from the London Chinese Culture Centre but they did not seem too well-known…

If Yellow Earth are the only company that does this type of theatre, I wonder to myself, why? There is so much more to discover, even for myself; a chinese man who has been born and raised in England. I don’t see much Chinese theatre around.

Don’t get me wrong, in terms of other types of performance; Chinese films, martial arts and circus performances are all very influential and are known to most of the people in the UK. At BFI Southbank, there are plenty of Chinese/Oriental films shown and there are particular seasons as well. (as a side note… watch Infernal Affairs, one of my favourite chinese films. Some may know this better by the remake, Martin Scorsese’s The Departed)

Perhaps the reason these artistic forms are so popular in the UK, instead of chinese theatre, is that I don’t think there has been a great interest in the theatre as such from the chinese people I have met or know. Also, from my experience of Hong Kong, no one goes to the theatre.

I don’t even know where they are or what they look like. Judging from the new 2010 Hong kong Arts Festival theatre line up, there are only 6 theatre in the whole of Hong Kong. I know Hong Kong is not very big (around the size of Greater London) but still… that is not very many theatre spaces. There is Chinese Opera (mainly Cantonese drama) performed in HK, but not very much as well.


I might be just hanging out with the wrong people, but I get that sort of vibe that the chinese minorities in the UK are not interested in theatre. I think this is probably the difference between the Chinese and the other minorities, with the Tricycle particularly in mind.

I’ll be honest though, I cannot speak directly on behalf of the Taiwanese and Mainland Chinese people, as I know that theatre in China is becoming more predominate, as well as in Taiwan (like “Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan” who recently performed at the Barbican for their Bite09 season).

Looking up award-winning chinese playwrights becomes nearly impossible if you cannot read chinese as well, looking up “Wong Wing-sze” gives you a Facebook profile as the first hit.  /facepalm…

At least for artists in China, like Lin Zhao Hua (famous director) and Lao She (famous playwright and novelist), are easy to search. I think there needs to be more access, or some form of publicity. We mentioned that maybe this particular framing of the Black playwrights in the “Not Black and White” season is necessary. New Chinese playwrights or directors need that frame to get everyone looking!

There is some hope I think for Chinese theatre to come here. Looking at Yellow Earth again, I can see plays being written by the British east asian community, fiddling with themes of identity and culture, or even just subjects that are not related to these typical themes that minority groups tend to write about.

I think the meeting of “East and West” cultures is important. I want to see more, that’s my wish. I think there are signs of that when people in the Far east start doing Hamlet or Animal Farm, however, we need more Chinese writers and directors and actors to fill in the void that is in the UK at the moment. I think from there we can see more original Chinese dramas cropping up, I mean, we have other cultural forms or remakes in the UK already: the hip-hop version of the Pied Piper, the Iroko Theatre Company, Kabuki, Tara Arts, and many others as well.

I want to see what is in for the future – companies like Yellow Earth are new, with them only being founded in 1995. So if there are more companies that create new theatre to come around,  then that’s fantastic. I just want to see more! More being invited to international events and doing more world tours. And if anyone can enlighten me in a few other Chinese or Oriental theatre companies than please do.

/end rant.


EDIT: check out http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatreblog/2008/nov/06/british-east-asian-theatre

This was posted last year in 2008 and apparently, Yellow Earth was the only subsidised British East Asian theatre company in the UK! So it wasn’t so odd that I only could remember one… I hope his has changed or changes soon!




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