Interview: Dr Jingan Young on her new play and why theatre is a crucial medium for political stories

Dr Jingan Young is a journalist and writer from Hong Kong and her latest play, which opens at the Vault Festival on 25 February, focuses on censorship in the media.

Here she talks about what inspired the story, communism and freedom of speech and why theatre is such a crucial medium for political stories.

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Dr Jingan Young speaking on the BBC

When did you first get interested in writing and specifically writing for the stage?

I didn’t grow up going to the theatre in Hong Kong. I didn’t see my first serious production until after I moved to London for university in 2009. I was transfixed by this world where words directed action and vice versa, where what actors pretended could affect and had affected lives.

And politics, rhetoric…to be able to argue or to explore topics about our lives through drama. I found it visceral, ephemeral, addictive...as I grow older, and as we continue to see the disconnect within the digital and real-world, I see the political importance of having a space for live theatre/live performance where audiences are forced to engage with what they're watching.

I applied on a whim to the Hampstead Theatre’s (now defunct) Heat & Light and rather extraordinarily was mentored by James Graham.

A month later I was admitted into the Royal Court Theatre’s Young Writers Programme. The training was invaluable.

I was later commissioned by the Hong Kong Arts Festival for my play FILTH (Failed In London, Try Hong Kong) on ex-pats in the city.

Later, I set up my own non-profit company Pokfulam Rd Productions, which for four years, championed new writing from South East Asian/East Asian writers & those inspired by it at venues like Theatre503 and the Arcola Theatre.

This culminated in the publication of Foreign Goods, the first British East Asian play collection published by Oberon Books in 2018, the foreword was by my mentor David Henry Hwang.

Tell us a bit about your new play The Life and Death of a Journalist?

Last year, I wrote about the political importance of writing a play about Hong Kong, the city of my birth and an ex-British colony whose freedoms are being eroded by the Chinese Communist Party.

I also discussed the anchor of the play, which is the CCP’s ongoing interference in Britain, specifically, in the media. 

My play follows a female journalist who chooses to align herself with a pro-CCP outlet because of her misplaced belief that she can change it from the inside.

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The shameless 'I love Johnny Flynn' post ie an excuse to reminisce about his stage performances

I saw the new film adaptation of Emma today. It's a Jane Austen book I studied for A-Level and love, and I really didn't think we needed another adaptation but oh my gosh it was brilliant, not least because Johnny Flynn is a really sexy Mr Knightley.

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Johnny Flynn as Mr Knightley in Focus Features' Emma

(I wonder what Miss Egan, my close-to-retirement teacher would have made of him.)

Now, I've long had a soft spot for Johnny since seeing him on stage in The Heretic in 2011 (I missed him in Jerusalem first time around but caught him when it came back that same year).

He's had an interesting stage and screen career to date, proving that he can play more than the quiet romantic (see Hangmen from his stage CV and Beast from his film CV).

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Review: Flights, Omnibus Theatre - drinking games, denials and grieving for youth

It is 17 years since the teenage Liam laid down on a road while tripping on drugs and his friends Barry (Colin Campbell), Pa (Rhys Dunlop) and Cusack (Conor Madden) gather to drink and remember his untimely death.

Rhys Dunlop; Colin Campbell; Conor Madden as Pa  Barry and Cusack photo Ste Murray
L-R Rhys Dunlop, Colin Campbell and Conor Madden in Flights by John O'Donovan. Photo Ste Murray

But this night is less about Liam and more about them and how their lives have measured up since. 

The large crowd they expect never materialises leaving them playing drinking games and darts while picking over their school days and adult life.

Barry's girlfriend has just got a good job in London so they are leaving Ireland, Pa is living on benefits, taking drugs and sofa surfing and Cusack has a baby with his wife.

Picking its way through the witty banter and amusing reminiscences is a growing mood of melancholy that reveals grief and regret.

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Vault Festival review: Tinted, Amy Bethan Evans throws the spotlight on life and relationships for the visually impaired

Writer Amy Bethan Evans' new play, Tinted, is another piece that explores what life is like for the visually impaired.  While her previous play, Libby's Eyes, exposed the Kafka-esque nature of the benefits system, Tinted takes on friendships and dating.

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Charlotte Eyres in Tinted, Vault Festival. Georgia Harris Photography

Charlotte Eyres plays Laura, a visually impaired young woman, talking us through both childhood and adult experiences around friendships and relationships.

Her dad wants her outlook rooted in reality - he likes to take a hatchet to her favourite fairytales - but is equally over-protective and as a result, Laura isn't very worldly-wise.

She prefaces the tale of her first dating experiences with stories about her sex-education classes which are light on actual detail, to put it mildly.

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Vault Festival review: Sticky Door, Katie Arnstein's funny and poignant show about sex, equality and mental health

Writer and performer Katie Arnstein's one-woman show Sticky Door is about how she planned to take back control of her love life but ended up learning to live with past trauma.

Katie Arnstein  Sticky Door  © Lidia Crisafulli
Katie Arnstein, Sticky Door © Lidia Crisafulli

It starts at Christmas 2013 when life seems to be conspiring against her. She is between acting agents, lives in flat above a fried chicken shop which means her clothes always smell of fat and her boyfriend has just dumped her.

She decides attachment is where she is going wrong and sets herself a goal of having a different lover every month.

Through a year's exploits, we not only get Katie's witty perspective on dating and casual sex - peppered with numerous cases of cystitis - but also learn more about how past and more recent traumas have affected her mental health.

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11 theatre turn-offs (or how I whittle down the list of what I want to see)

There is so much theatre to see in London it can be difficult to narrow down the choice but there are some immediate turn-offs, for me, and these are 11 of them:

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  1. The poster has only men on it
  2. The poster has men and women but the men are gurning in supposedly comic style and the women are looking exacerbated
  3. Words 'urgent' and 'vital' are banded around.
  4. Poetry is mentioned.
  5. The running time is 3 hours plus.
  6. It has two intervals.
  7. Described as a family show.
  8. It's a musical (obviously) or sounds like it might be a musically.
  9. 'A new play by Tom Stoppard'.
  10. Start time is 8pm or later.
  11. Tony Kushner is involved (because it inevitably leads to no. 5)

What are your theatre turn-offs?

 

Review: Albion, Almeida Theatre - Victoria Hamilton is superb as the complex if unlikeable Audrey

Audrey (Victoria Hamilton) in Mike Bartlett's play Albion, is exactly the sort of towney that country-folk hate. 

Albion at the Almeida. Victoria Hamilton (Audrey). Photo credit Marc Brenner.  (2)
Victoria Hamilton (Audrey) in Albion, Almeida Theatre. Photo: Marc Brenner.

She's sold her London house and bought a pile with a historically significant garden in a small village and sees locals as a source of menial labour rather than a community.

Her first move is to close the garden to all but her own select gatherings, shutting out the village and the traditional events held there.

It's not the worst thing about Audrey. She is self-centred, controlling and leaves people in no doubt how she feels. 

Searching for purpose

What you learn about Audrey during the play is that her obnoxious behaviour is in part protectionism. She is actually wracked with grief, searching for solid ground, for purpose and somewhere to pull loved ones close and not let go.

Does it make her actions, her interfering and treatment of people forgivable?

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Video: 60 Second review of Endgame at the Old Vic with Alan Cumming & Daniel Radcliffe

Here are my 60 seconds worth of thoughts on Endgame at the Old Vic, recorded when I got home from the theatre.

The bit I was halfway through saying at the end (the video was cut for Instagram) was 'Amazing...way with ladders'.

If you want more than 60 seconds worth you can read my full review here.

For more video reviews follow my Instagram account or YouTube channel.

And if you've seen Endgame, let me know what you thought in the comments ⬇️⬇️⬇️⬇️⬇️


Review: Alan Cumming and Daniel Radcliffe in Endgame, Old Vic - stuffed dogs, ladders and a performance that resonates

I know when Alan Cumming was talking about crossing his character's 'wasted' legs on the Graham Norton Show a few weeks ago it was a joke but there was a small part of me that was waiting for it to happen when I went to see Endgame. 

Old Vic Endgame sign

There is humour in Beckett's play about master and servant locked in an endless routine of acid dialogue and 'activity', some of it physical some of it in the words.

But this isn't a roll-around in the aisles funny comedy. It's a Beckett play after all.

It's like an abstract, absurd Chekhov play about people who can see the escape route to their problems but can't seem to follow it.

There's an inevitability but Endgame's narrative is circular rather than linear.

Opposites attract?

Hamm (Alan Cumming) and Clov (Daniel Radcliffe) are opposites (who attract?) and it is something that is particularly apparent in this production.

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Review: Scenes With Girls, Royal Court - intelligent, fresh and funny, I want more theatre like this please

I want to see more plays like Scenes With Girls. While women talking about sex and talking about liking sex, isn't as unusual as it once was, what I particularly enjoyed about Miriam Battye's play is how it moves the discussion into the context of feminism.

Scenes with girls ticket

Tosh (Tanya Reynolds) and Lou (Rebekah Murrell) are best friends.  While boyfriends and other friends have come and gone their friendship has endured.

They are feminists, eschewing conventional stereotypes of what women should and shouldn't do.

For Lou, this means subverting what she sees as society's prescribed narrative of women needing to be in a relationship.

Badge of honour

She is determined to create a new narrative, enjoying sex but nothing more. She sees the increasing number of sexual partners she's had as a badge of honour.

Tosh meanwhile hasn't had sex for a long time.

When their old friend Fran (Letty Thomas) turns up engaged to her 'boring' boyfriend it seems to confirm everything they believe about the 'female narrative'.

Cracks appear

But in dissecting Fran's relationship and everything they perceived to be wrong about it, it challenges their principles and exposes cracks in their friendship.

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