Theatre: Chinglish

I bought a ticket to Chinglish, a play by Pangdemonium, as soon as bookings were made available. My interest was piqued on several counts:

1) it is a bilingual comedy about language and cultural miscommunication (one of my pet topics),

2) my favourite actor, the thespian Adrian Pang,

3) well-loved veteran TV host Guo Liang.

Then, when the newspapers gave its gala performance rave reviews (I read FOUR!), I started counting the days (TEN) before I could watch the show. I was not disappointed.

Before curtains rose, an actress (Audrey Luo) came to the front of the stage and spoke in China-accented English on the house Rules and Regulations (eg ‘switch off phone’, ‘don’t take pictures’). It was done in such a refreshing and humorous way that only boded well for the rest of the performance! (Really, it was full house and not a single phone rang and not a single photo flash took place. Amazing!)

When the curtains went up, I was so impressed with the stage decoration that I did not blink for a long while. The set was just beautiful! Then, in the course of the play, I found that the set had a revolving stage floor that ensured smooth transitions between scenes, together with multimedia screens cleverly built into the backdrop. The background music chosen were nice and appropriate too, especially “The Moon Represents My Heart” at the end.

The term “chinglish” refers to the bizarre Chinese-to-English translations that tickles, such as “Slip and fall down carefully”, “Deformed Man’s Toilet” and “Please don’t touch yourself, let us help you to try out”. While poking fun at ignorances of language, this play also looks at the gulf between cultures.

This play, written by Tony Award-award winning Asian-American playwright David Henry Hwang, looks at the breakdown in communication that happens when an American businessman (Daniel Jenkins) goes to China to resurrect his family-run sign-making business. He realises that what is lost in translation is not just language, but also culture. In Guiyang, he meets the Culture Minister (Adrian Pang), his vice-minister (Oon Shu Ann), a Briton who has lived in China so long that he is fluent in its language and its ways (Matt Grey), an ambitious magistrate (Guo Liang) and a trio of bewildereing translators (Audrey Luo in multiple roles).

I was very impressed by Grey’s Mandarin, which was as good as, if not better than, Adrian Pang’s. I was also very impressed by Luo (this was the first time I watched her performance) and I will make it a point to attend her future performances.

I did not get enough of Guo Liang (whose character came on only in the last hour of the play) and Adrian Pang. (I never get enough of Pang, anyway.) This was their first collaboration; I hope there will be more!