So on October 8, Tuesday, I will be performing after this play at the Ovalhouse Theatre The Fu Manchu Complex by Daniel York and I am ridiculously excited. This is not just because I was never chosen for any plays at school and this is the closest I will ever come to being on a theatre stage…
What the play is….a comedy/murder mystery set in East London in the 19th century, with two English gentlemen on the hunt for the evil Oriental mastermind Fu Manchu and Save England From The Evil Chinese Who Are Scheming To Take Over The World, because that’s what The Chinese have always been doing, and are still trying to do up until this century, according to every other newspaper editorial about the People’s Republic of China. Right?
The Fu Manchu Complex is a fucking incredible rambunctious statement about race and colonialism and discrimination against Chinese/East Asians/Southeast Asians/Those Formerly Known As Orientals* by taking us back to (and making a mockery of ) a simpler time when they all ran seedy opium dens in Limehouse and it was ok to make fun of them, and go on long racist rants without getting into trouble on Youtube. Its got East Asian actors in whiteface playing posh Caucasian English detectives. It asks, who was Fu Manchu anyway? A cartoon character created by racists who’s been killed by the P.C .Brigade, or does his spirit still live on in the 21st century, along with the whole fear-that-the-Orientals-Will-Destroy-Western-Civilization thing (otherwise known as the Yellow Peril) that gave birth to him? Wikipedia doesn’t say, but this play might. Its funny, its discomforting, its silly, its angry, it will force you to rethink what you thought weren’t prejudices.
What makes the play’s subject matter even more urgent is that it comes at an interesting time when recent incidents such as the casting of no East Asians in a play set in China, The Orphan of Zhao, by the Royal Shakespeare Company last year and a play at the Edinburgh Fringe this year called Beijing Cake involving actors in yellow face are still considered appropriate have made people sit up and think about racial prejudice and the status of ‘Orientals’ in the art community and Britain. While many have been pissed off and angered into action, it has been interesting to see that many more have come out and defended these decisions, with arguments that go from ‘stop overreacting’, to denial, to arguments I find much harder to stomach.
So anyway, they invited me to perform poems after the play at 9.30PM next Tuesday and it will be an honour. I’m in the process of writing some kind of poem about race for it and in discussing the poem with people have already encountered ‘but you’re complaining too much/but that’s not/but you DO have slanty eyes!’-type comments, which is shit in general but good for the inspiration.
“OBEY OR EVERY LIVING THING WILL DIE”….i kind of want this on my tombstone
The play runs from 1 to 19 October, Tues-Sat 7.45pm, Ovalhouse Theatre, 52-54 Kennington Oval London SE11 5SW.
Facebook event: http://www.facebook.com/events/1421252838100424/?ref=br_tf
…..and in other news, come to Forget What You Heard About Spoken Word next Wednesday, 9 October. It will be the last one I host before I move back to Singapore in December, so come and make it (more) special! I got to choose the lineup so I chose three poets whom I consider superheroes and don’t get to see enough of: Anna Kahn (pure molten magic and energy), Ng Yi-Sheng (one of my first poet-superheroes and possible the most exciting poet/activist from Singapore), and Rik PoeTreeman (with roots growing out of festival bonfires but totally able to captivate rooms with a microphone). 7.30PM. Ryan’s Bar, Stoke Newington Church Street.
*shameless reference to the genius that is Chimamanda Ngodizhe Adichie’s novel Americanah. Go read it and find out why.