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Jockey Club New Arts Power Sweet Mandarin
Photograph: Courtesy Jockey Club New Arts Power

Discovering cultural identity through the journey of Sweet Mandarin

We speak to Wu Hoi-fai, Artistic Director of Pants Theatre Production, to find out more about his latest stage production of Sweet Mandarin.

Time Out Hong Kong in partnership with JOCKEY CLUB New Arts Power
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The JOCKEY CLUB New Arts Power (JCNAP) has returned bigger and better than ever. Featuring seven performances, two exhibitions, and over 100 educational and community events, the multidisciplinary arts festival is bound to please every culture vulture in town. One of the highlights of the Festival is the stage production of Sweet Mandarin by Pants Theatre Production. Adapted from the English autobiographical novel of the same name, the emotional story recounts the lives of three Chinese women over three generations, while touching upon subjects such as cultural identity, sacrifice, and family. 

Artistic Director of Pants Theatre Production Wu Hoi-fai first read Sweet Mandarin in 2007 when he was studying in London. While researching, Wu came across a local murder case where a Chinese takeaway owner was endlessly harassed and eventually beaten to death by a group of youngsters. This incident shocked Wu so much so that he wanted to investigate further into the significance of Chinese minorities in the UK. To his surprise, he didn’t have many options, but eventually, Wu landed on Sweet Mandarin. The story follows Helen Tse, a British-born Chinese who, against all expectation, leaves behind her successful lawyer job to open up her own restaurant. Along the way, she begins to discover more about her cultural identity, the heritage behind Chinese cuisine, and touching stories about her family’s struggles from Guangzhou, to Hong Kong, and to the UK. Having been away from home for a long time, Wu felt a connection to the book right away as it challenged him to question his own identity as a Hongkonger, and decided to turn the novel into a two-hour stage production.

One of Wu’s favourite scenes from the play takes place towards the end of the show where Helen’s grandmother Lily is cooking a pot of curry on stage. The visual, the smell, and the flavour all play an equally important role in Chinese cuisine, therefore Wu insisted on cooking up a real curry on stage, where the aroma could fill up the entire theatre, making the experience feel even more authentic. During their performance in Shanghai, one of the audience members even asked if she can taste the curry being cooked on stage!

With this stage adaption of Sweet Mandarin, Wu hopes that its audience will be able to rediscover and make an effort to preserve what is valuable in our city and its history by spreading the knowledge. Set to take place at the Sheung Wan Civic Centre from October 9 to 11, Sweet Mandarin will be performed in Cantonese and English with subtitles. Get your tickets now!

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