Interview: Actor & writer Tuyen Do on diverse narratives and having her first full play staged

Tuyen Do is no stranger to the London stage having appeared most recently in The Great Wave at the National Theatre and Pah-Na at the Royal Court but next week she'll be sitting in the audience watching her first full length play Summer Rolls performed at the Park Theatre.

Tuyen Do

I asked her about the play, how she'll be feeling and whether it is getting any easier to stage narratives from a more diverse background.

Tell us a bit about Summer Rolls and where the idea for the play came from.

Summer Rolls is a family drama that spans over 20 years and is seen through the eyes of the youngest daughter Mai as she navigates her dual identity as a second-generation Vietnamese immigrant and comes of age.

She realises very young that her family are nursing deep wounds and secrets. Having escaped from a war-torn country, their individual journeys and memories have left scars that Mai was too young to know. 

Embracing her family’s silence; Mai turns to photography and in capturing ‘essential’ moments finds herself a chronicler of her community’s experiences and an essential catalyst to her family’s healing.


How does it feel to have your first full production and what can audiences expect?

I’m still processing it, and don’t I think I will be able to fully grasp it until I’m sitting amongst the audience, seeing and feeling this play with them.

The play has been so beautifully brought to life by the genius team behind it.

The photography, design, sound and lights have elevated it into so much more than I ever imagined.

Audiences should feel like they are peering into a Vietnamese family home as if they are the walls of the house. A place they’ve never seen before, but will universally connect to through the complicated, joyful and painful family dynamics within it.

They should expect to laugh, cry and be moved by the brilliant performances.

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Jake Gyllenhaal returns to the London stage...and a tale of how Poly just gets me.

You have to understand that I've been a fan of Jake Gyllenhaal's since seeing the film Donnie Darko 18 years ago.

He has appeared on stage in London before but that was back in my non-theatre going days. Hard to believe but they did exist.

I've waited a long time for him to return now that I'm a theatre-goer again. And he is back, in Sunday in the Park With George.

A musical. A musical. I hate musicals. You can read why here, although since writing that post I've realised that I also don't like songs as a form of narrative. I find it difficult to engage with them.

Musicals get under my skin in an irritating way.

Had to leave

I lasted 20 minutes into Hugh Jackman's The Greatest Showman before I had to leave the cinema.

Three songs for Rocketman.

See I do try.

Would I be able to overcome my dislike of musicals for Jake?

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Review: Strange Fruit, Bush Theatre - an exposing and painful play which distracts from its key themes

It is the women that come to the fore and feel like the more interesting and sympathetic characters.

Rakie Ayola as Vivian in 'Strange Fruit' at the Bush Theatre. Photo credit Helen Murray.
Rakie Ayola as Vivian in 'Strange Fruit', Bush Theatre. Photo: Helen Murray.

Caryl Phillips' play Strange Fruit focuses on cultural identity in 1980s Britain.

Vivian (Rakie Ayola) left the Caribbean with her two young sons Errol and Alvin seeking a better life but after 20 years in England, the family finds themselves caught between two cultures.

The grown-up brothers are disaffected and angry. Errol (Jonathan Ajayi) rages at society and that includes his mother and white girlfriend Shelley (Tilly Steele) - which doesn't make for comfortable viewing.

England is riddled with racism and prejudice, neither brother feels welcome or that it is the land of opportunity their mother believes. 

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Review: Little Bulb Theatre's The Future, Battersea Arts Centre - science and rock songs (guess which I liked more?)

The eccentric inventiveness of what Little Bulb has done is thoroughly entertaining.

Little Bulb  The Future at Battersea Arts Centre 2019  PHOTOCREDIT Adam Trigg - www-naturaltheatre-photos Future-006
Little Bulb Theatre: The Future, Battersea Arts Centre 2019. Photo: Adam Trigg

I loved Little Bulb Theatre's last production Orpheus so much I saw it twice, so I was really excited to see their new work The Future.

It projects us into the world of three scientists who, with the help of a compere/conductor/presenter (Clare Beresford), explore super intelligence - AI - and the impact it will have on humanity. 

This being Little Bulb their take is executed with quirkiness, music and song.

The scientists wear tinfoil on their heads and have an idiosyncratic way of talking that manages to be nerdy, dry and humorous all at the same time. Shamira Turner is particularly brilliant in her style of delivery.

Living with super intelligence

AI is represented by a box on a stand - the genie contained - and the play (and it's rock-inflected songs) explore the good and bad of living with super intelligence.

Scenarios and presentations are played out by the scientists in their own quirky style of fun and you find yourself laughing at them just as much as with.

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Review: Woke, Battersea Arts Centre - powerful and atmospheric

Apphia Campbell gives a powerful and engaging performance and the play's message... is firmly nailed to the mast.

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Apphia Campbell, Woke. Photo Mihaela Bodlovic

Woke is an appropriate title for Apphia Campbell's play about what makes an activist and the battle for civil rights and.

She weaves together two stories, set in different time periods, contrasting the Black Panthers with Black Lives Matter to ask how far things have progressed.

First, we meet the naive - 'unwoke' - university fresher Ambrosia whose first semester coincides with the murder of Michael Brown by a white police officer which sparks social unrest near her college campus.

Views challenged

She's been brought up to believe that the law is just and justice will prevail until she meets Trey, the law student who challenges her views and inadvertently introduces her to the realities of the legal system for African Americans.

Then we meet Assata Shakur who, while a member of the Black Liberation Army in the 1970s, was jailed for shooting a police officer despite the prosecution case not having to prove that she actually fired the fatal shots. 

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Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Bridge Theatre - bed hopping and role-swapping

It is a production that ends with an immersive dance and leaves the audience in a party mood but what I liked most was how it steered the narrative away from male dominance.

Midsummer Night's Dream Bridge Theatre poster
Don't leave it to the last minute to get into the auditorium for the Bridge Theatre immersive, promenade production of A Midsummer Night's Dream because there is stuff going on before the play officially starts.

Gwendoline Christie, a statuesque Amazon Queen, is encased in a glass box in a riff on the idea of a golden cage. She is dressed in a nun-like habit while a choir, similarly attired, sing to her.

When the opening 'marriage or death' scene plays out, it is austere with the cold and unfeeling Theseus (Oliver Chris) and Egeus (Kevin McMonagle) appearing all the more domineering towards the petite, girlish Hermia (Isis Hainsworth). 

Hippolyta places her hand on the glass in a gesture of support towards Hermia.

Hint of a twist

It hints at a twist that is to come, one that sees director Nicholas Hytner not merely gender swapping to redress the balance but swapping a whole storyline. But I'll come onto that.

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Review: Education, Education, Education, Trafalgar Studios - riotous, funny, occasionally chaotic but not just nostalgia

Riotous in tone, occasionally chaotic but with an inventive playfulness Education, Education, Education successfully captures the optimism of the time but it isn't just nostalgia.

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The Wardrobe Ensemble's Education, Education, Education, Trafalgar Studios. Photo: James Bullimore

It's 1997 the day after the General Election. Tony Blair has just swept Labour to victory, the UK won the Eurovision (remember that) and Britpop is riding high.

There is a feeling of optimism and pride in the country. I remember it well.

At Wordsworth Comprehensive, where the textbooks are 15 years old, the teachers feel it too, election promises of extra funding  - Blair's mantra of Education, Education, Education - has got some of them in a bit of a giddy mood. 

End of term atmosphere

Year 11 are feeling giddy too. It is the last day before they start revision leave but with exams feeling a long way off the atmosphere is more end of term.

Staff room politics over teaching styles and levels of discipline are set to clash with teenage exuberance just as parents are due to arrive for the leavers' assembly.

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Review: BalletBoyz, Them/Us (Vaudeville) or being moved to tears watching a piece of contemporary dance

It's a mercurial piece of so many breathtaking contrasts - fluid, floaty, tender, strong, angular and jovial. Their leaps, holds and shapes reflect and foster the individual while celebrating the strength, power and support of the collective.

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BalletBoyz: Them/Us (Them). Photo by George Piper

Full disclosure: I don't know anything about dance. I'm a novice who has only ever seen two ballets (one of which I reviewed).

So I'm writing this review not as someone who can critique the technique and style but as someone who sat in a theatre to watch and experience contemporary dance for the first time.

For a newbie to dance, BalletBoyz's Them/Us at the Vaudeville Theatre is a great show to start with.

A good introduction

At the start of each of the two pieces, they show video clips of interviews with the dancers and creatives talking about how the two pieces have been created together with rehearsal footage.

It not only helps to set the scene but gives you a brief introduction to and an appreciation for the art form as well as a glimpse of the BalletBoyz's sense of fun.

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Review: Simon Stephens' Country Music, Omnibus Theatre - seeking out meaning in the silence

There is much to be gleaned from the subtlety of the play but it requires work and attention to seek it out.

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Cary Crankson, Country Music Omnibus Theatre

Country Music opens with two teenagers 18-year-old Jamie (Cary Crankson) and 15-year-old Lynsey (Rebecca Stone) sitting in a car talking about a trip to Southend.

It appears relatively innocent, a boy trying to impress a girl until we discover that Jamie has stolen the car and is putting distance between himself and a violent crime he has committed which we later find out resulted in a death.

Lynsey, who lives in a care home, may enjoy the attention and this moment of fun and promise but is savvy and when Jamie reveals exactly what he has done she gets cold feet.

The play goes on to visit Jamie at three further pivotal moments in his life in a series of two-handers. 

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Review: Did the star-studded cast shine in mid-life crisis comedy drama The Starry Messenger, Wyndham's Theatre?

His voice has that soporific tone and pace that bring back shuddering memories of classrooms where time stands still except that writer Kenneth Lonergan has gifted Mark with a dry humour delivered by Broderick in such a deliciously understated way you can't but admire his comic timing.

Matthew Broderick (Mark) Starry Messenger by Marc Brenner
Matthew Broderick (Mark) The Starry Messenger by Marc Brenner

"I've said it before and I'll say it again, life moves pretty fast and if you don't stop and look around once in while you could miss it." So said Matthew Broderick's Ferris Bueller in the 1986 film Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

If only his character Mark in The Starry Messenger had heeded Ferris' warning.

Mark finds himself middle-aged and teaching astronomy classes at a planetarium which is hardly the space-related career he imagined when a young man.

Instead, he is a tweed jacket and waistcoat-wearing tutor and any laughter and jollity during his lessons are what drift through the walls from the neighbouring classroom.

Dry humour

His voice has that soporific tone and pace that bring back shuddering memories of classrooms where time stands still except that writer Kenneth Lonergan has gifted Mark with a dry humour delivered by Broderick in such a deliciously understated way you can't but admire his comic timing.

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