The story of settling into a new culture, having to assimilate and build up a life via independent means is a story that many immigrants share. Often travelling from their country of origin with little income and having experienced tough upbringings, whether that be due to political regimes, limited resources, social climates or for other various reasons, these factors only ever go on to strengthen an individual. In-Sook Chappell’s Mountains: The Dreams of Lily Kwok taps into this narrative of immigration, a dream play that marries the past with the present.
Chappell delves into the life of Lily Kwok (originally Sui King Leung) a now celebrated restraunteur originally from China who at the beginnings of her life suffered many hardships. As one of six daughters, her fortunes were determined by her father, a soy sauce manufacturer who would tragically lose his life, the aftermath witnessing the family not being able to inherit their father’s factory, taking on various jobs to make ends meet. Lily would go on to marry Kwok Chan and have three children. After the dissolution of their marriage, Lily would then take on work in the UK, supporting a family with domestic services. This would then lead onto her carving out a career pursuing her love of cooking and ultimately establishing one of the first Chinese restaurants within the UK. This story of hardship and success is incredibly relatable, Lily’s story marking her out as a hero, Chappell’s choice of subject a riveting one. Mountains draws inspiration from Helen Tse (MBE), Lily’s Grandaughter’s memoir, Sweet Mandarin. It is this memoir that highlights the steel and gumption of Lily’s journey, and it is with Mountains that this voice is given a lease of life.
Brought up in the UK, Helen has built up a successful life for herself, however she feels that something is missing. Journeying back to China, Hong Kong, where her familial roots lie, she meets her grandmother, the great Lily who unveils a series of harsh truths. Jennifer Tang directs an intricate dream play respectful of Chappell’s vision. The beauty with Mountains is that it is incredibly rich with ideas that it can be watched multiple times, with every watch equalling something new being learned. Filmic at points, this could easily be translated onto the screen. Tina Chiang’s Lily anchors the show’s pace, she is in complete control of the evening, her silent resilience showcasing a grit, therefore reassuring the audience that she can withstand life’s hardships. Siu-See Hung’s Helen buoyantly questions, discovers and explores a life she could only imagine. Watching Helen walk in the footsteps of her grandmother Lily is the ultimate suspension of disbelief, a convention that marks out this show’s admirable ambition.
Amelia Jane Hankin’s striking geometric set design beautifully captures the beauty and precision of Chinese architecture. A triangular doorway formed of bamboo sticks steals the audience’s gaze. Rectangular sign posts either side beaming with Cantonese typography. Amy Mae’s lighting design beautifully illuminates the evening’s dreamscape. Mountains is a show not to be missed so if you can, watch! 4/5
Review written by Lucy Basaba.
Mountains: The Dreams of Lily Kwok was shown from Wednesday 18th to Saturday 21st April 2018 at Stratford Circus. The show is currently on tour, to find out more about the production, visit here…
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