Racist Review For British East Asian Theatre Company?

May 15, 2016

Now I realise I have to make this clear from the off – this has nothing to do with the review itself, or the lack of stars. It is not a case of sour grapes, it is not some attempt at revenge on my part or anybody else's, in fact I could not give a toss what this reviewer thinks of me, my writing, my direction or about our production in general, but I do take exception to his attack on our British East Asian cast.

 

Reviews, love them or loath them, are a necessary evil and I've been at this lark long enough to take a number of them with a large pinch of salt.  As Danielle Tarento pointed out recently the quality of some reviews are appalling – though I disagree with her singling out the online bloggers, some of the professionals are just as guilty in my book – and some of them don't seem to understand the concept of 'fair comment'.  Well, lets face it there are a lot of people out there with an axe to grind. Frustrated actors and writers jealous of another's success, or who have been turned down or sacked by that particular production company or the director, and others who have a particular agenda, political or otherwise, and then there's the self important graduates, the bitter old hacks – the list goes on and on. I've certainly been around long enough to piss people off and regularly get a mauling from certain reviewers and their clique, but it is just water off a ducks back to me.  In fact I have never in nearly thirty years felt the need to take a reviewer to task over a review, no matter how scathing, but this particular reviewer has stepped over the mark, well beyond what is acceptable, and I hope you think so too.

 

The reviewer in question is Mr Malcolm Eadie who wrote a review for Remotegoat about Red Dragonfly's/Grist To The Mill's current production of DiaoChan: The Rise of the Courtesan, which is on at Upstairs at the Arts Theatre in London.  Now Red Dragonfly Productions prides itself in being a British East Asian theatre company, with the emphasis on the 'British', and has toured throughout the UK giving opportunities to British East Asian actors, helping them to hone their skills, and bringing entertaining theatre to truly diverse audiences.  Eadie was one of half-a-dozen or so reviewers attending the London press night and most of those reviewers appreciated what we did, with two of them giving us a full five stars (I've listed the reviews below for reference along with a full transcript of Eadie's review  just in case they actually get round to taking it down). Eadie only gave us one star so, of course, I had to read his review to see why he thought the production was so bad, get a few pointers maybe, and was shocked at the language he used – and I don't shock easily.

 

Recently there has been a lot said about the use of the word 'oriental' when describing people of East Asian decent.  In America it is now considered a racist term and here in the UK many organisations have banned the use of it, including Equity and Spotlight, but to be frank I did not have a problem with the term and, I am sorry to admit, viewed it as yet another new piece of political correctness imported from America – but when I saw Eadie refer to the cast an 'assortment of Oriental actors' I felt something stir in the pit of my stomach. 

 

It was if I had been talking to someone and they had dropped the 'n' word, which was odd considering my views, but I suddenly realised I might have been wrong, that I might not have really understood the impact that this word had until now when, like in a Spelling Bee, Eadie had put it into a sentence for me.  In using this phrase Eadie had not only managed to demean and dehumanise the cast but alienate them as well.  These were British actors yet by calling them 'an assortment of Oriental actors' he implied they were not British. Maybe you are not with me on this, but ask yourself would you term a Black British company as an 'assortment of African actors' or a British South Asian cast as an 'assortment of Indian actors', no they are British and it would not cross your mind to call them anything but. 

 

So was Eadie being racist or was he just ignorant – there were enough errors in his review to make me think the latter – but then when he went on to further insult the cast by questioning their 'professional pedigree' I started questioning his intentions, especially as he went on to take exception to one of the actors 'speaking with a Northern accent'.

 

You see he thought it incongruous that, in the play, this particular actor said that he had never been to the north. Well, Mr Eadie, I think I have to point out the play is actually set in China so I hardly see the relevance, or do you think that regional accents are internationally transposable and the Chinese from the province of Mongolia should sound Scottish, whilst those from Guangdong should speak with Devonian lilt?  Would you have made the same observation about a white actor I wonder?  Perhaps he should have used some sort of faux Chinese accent, would that have been preferable?  These are British actors and as the director I asked them to use their natural voices, regional accents are after all more than acceptable in the industry these days, and BEA actors are too often requested by the industry to put on an accent that is as foreign to them as it ever was to Benny Hill or Christopher Lee.  In fact throughout the entire three month tour none of our reviews, including the hundreds of audience feedback forms, ever made mention of this cast members accent.  Neither did they make mentioned of his current disability and his need of a NHS crutch, unless it was to praise him on how well he was coping with his injury, but Eadie took exception to this as well.  I suppose that we should be thankful that he did not need to use a wheelchair because that would have really spoiled Eadie's evening.

 

With regards to Eadie's further comments that the cast member looked 'remarkably like the young Ken Livingstone with a tea-cosy on his head' I can only suppose that he thought he was being witty, but to call a traditional Chinese hat a 'tea cosy' and then, in the title of his piece, to imply that a Courtesan is a 'tart' is culturally insulting. A tart is a prostitute, Mr Eadie, a Courtesan is not.

 

I contacted Remotegoat regarding the use of the language in this review but they refused to do anything about it, so I emailed Eadie directly and he has not replied.  I think if I thought that I had in any way, inadvertently or not, caused offence in such a fashion I would have at least responded, done my best to do something about it, but he has not.  So through his silence I can only conclude that Eadie thinks that he is in the right, which proves him to be nothing less than a small minded bigot.  Well let me tell you Mr Eadie not only am I not a racist I'm an anti-racist and I will be taking action against both you and Remotegoat for publishing such hateful comments.  I also call for the industry as a whole to do something about stopping malicious, hateful and unhelpful reviews so this cannot happen again. Both performers and audience need reviews without prejudice.

 

So to conclude if, like Mr Eadie, you prefer your East Asian theatre full of 'honourable fathers', cod Chinese accents and all the usual stereotypes don't come and see DiaoChan.  If however you want to see a Chinese classic performed by a talented bunch of British East Asian actors we are Upstairs at The Arts Theatre until the 28th May.

 

 

★★★★★ ‘Beautifully realised, captivating…Don’t miss it.’ –LondonTheatre1

 

★★★★★ ‘A tremendously enjoyable, exceptional work.’ –The Upcoming

 

‘An ancient story performed in a modern and accessible format’ – The Reviews Hub

 

‘A satisfying and enjoyable play, ably interpreted by a capable and determined company’ – Actdrop

 

 

"Tart’s Tale Makes Disappointing Recipe"
by Malcolm Eadie for remotegoat on 12/05/16

 

Director Ross Ericson has adapted Luo Guan Zhong’s novel about a courtesan in the latter part of theHan Dynasty into a script that is full of anachronistic dialogue. Contemporary speech such as “I had you down as….” and even, “You cheeky bitch” sits side by side with quasi classicisms such as, “I go not to battle.” This uneasy alliance of language might have been forgivable had it been in the service of a gripping story well acted, but this was neither.

The drama, with its tale of a courtesan who rises to be the most powerful woman in the kingdom, the power behind the throne, should and could have been exciting, but there is little room in this adaptation for Michelle Yim, who looks enticing enough as DiaoChan, to display much subtlety of motivation. Neither is Arthur Lee as brutal soldier of fortune LuBu able to engender any sympathy as he displays his fatal flaw, the love he feels for DiaoChan.

There is good use of Chinese screens being maneuvered about the stage to make the simplest of scene changes, but the play failed to live up to its billing of “The Chinese Macbeth” and at times, even verged on the farcical. There was probably no avoiding Andrew Wong as the minister WangYun needing to wear an orthopaedic boot under his courtly robes, but surely the provision of a rustic walking stick would have stopped him having to wield an NHS crutch. Looking remarkably like the young Ken Livingstone with a tea-cosy on his head, and speaking with a northern accent, it was all the more incongruous when someone asked if he was from the north and he retorted that he had never even been there. Add to all this an assortment of other oriental actors whose professional pedigree does not appear to match their abilities and you have the recipe for a disappointing evening.

In his first professional stage engagement, Benjamin Lok showed promise as the soldier sentenced to death for being found drunk on duty, but mostly, the cast was simply not skilled enough to be able to make anything out of the plodding script.

 

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