A play about Chinese people from Leeds, and staged at the Oriental City Restaurant on Cross Stamford Street, in Leeds was intriguing – a little drama accompanied by some tasty food.
Writers Mary Cooper and MW Sun had listened to and recorded the voices of dozens of Chinese people in Leeds. From these they wove together this wonderful, poignant play, bringing their stories and experiences to life. It was all the more touching because their experiences are echoed today. Here in our comfortable little bubbles we choose to ignore the fact that around the world people are dealing with similar experiences – being forced to flee because of war, famine, a better life…. just trying to survive.
Cheung Wing let go of his mother’s hand when they were fleeing the Japanese and subsequently was sold as a labourer in rural China. Years later he’s found by his uncle and reunited with his mother, then makes his way to Leeds to work in a restaurant.
Mei Lan’s parents run a takeaway and as children she and her brother worked long hours peeling potatoes and helping to run the business. When the business fails they join their father at another takeaway in the Dales – the only ‘Chinks’ in the village.
YiDi, born during the one-child policy in China and whose father had wanted a son, spends her life trying to gain his approval but, despite excelling academically, it’s never good enough. To escape she applies to do further study in Leeds where she discovers she has to add Yorkshire to her fluent English!
Presented by seven wonderful actors, these lives intertwine, back and forth. Each one a tale of love, loss, struggle and survival. All now happily living in Leeds surrounded by friends and family, none has forgotten their grueling journeys to get here – the hunger, the bullying, the lack of love, and the relentlessly hard work.
‘Shore to Shore’ at Oriental City started with a warming bowl of seaweed and tofu soup and soup made regular appearances throughout the play – first made with just roots and stems, then with vegetables, and finally with chicken! When the play finished we dived into more delicious dishes and somehow felt a new appreciation for this cuisine that so many of the Leeds Chinese community had contributed to.
‘Shore to Shore’ was presented by On The Wire in partnership with the Business Confucius Institute at the University of Leeds and Oriental City Restaurant. It is currently on tour and will play in Manchester, Oxford, London, Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and finishing at The Spurriergate Centre, York, on 9th/10th June.