The Fu Manchu Complex
Time Out says
Actor Daniel York, currently starring in ‘The World of Extreme Happiness’ at the NT Shed, has been a vociferous champion of British East Asian actors during recent casting furores. Now he’s picked up the cause with his debut play, a schlocky Sherlocky spoof in which every character is a broad, borderline offensive national stereotype.
Such a great idea, so badly bungled. York’s satire scores a direct hit, but it does so with the leaden set-pieces and gags so signposted they’d be visible from the Great Wall of China. You end up nodding and cringing at the same time. If only York had outsourced the concept to a slapstick superstar like Sean Foley or Cal McCrystal.
Nonetheless, York dump tackles the lazy deployment of nationality on stage (and screen). Upstanding Englishmen with plummy RP take the peachiest roles – here, detective Nayland Smith (Paul Chan) and his sidekick Dr Petri (Andrew Koji). Scots, Irish and ‘those yellow-faced, slanty-eyed orientals’ wind up in bit parts: maids and drunks for the former; the latter: ninjas, seductresses and evil, moustachioed geniuses intent on world domination like Fu Manchu (Chipo Chung) himself.
Justin Audibert’s production practises its preaching, with an all-British-East-Asian cast using half-masks to hop between nationalities – but it does score the significant own-goal of having almost uniformly ropey performances, Chung being the honorable exception. Audibert does the best with what he’s got, largely thanks to a classy, monochrome Lily Arnold design that nods to music hall and silent cinema.
By Matt Trueman