EFR - Reviews of Beijing Cake

Beijing Cake

Mon 19th – Sat 24th August 2013

reviews

Marnie Langeroodi

at 10:56 on 20th Aug 2013

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This play was disappointing; what seemed like a great premise was not fully realised. Though the actors are capable, their roles are shallow and uninteresting. Two-dimensional characters are acceptable in comedy, but unfortunately, I didn’t find this play very funny.

The main character - the American ambassador – was annoying, albeit intentionally so. Both ambassador and son were very loud (for such a small venue) and we were exposed to their irritating characters without relent. When one wasn’t extravagantly expressing themself, the other was.

There was no subtlety or wit in this production. Jokes came unnaturally; I knew when I was supposed to laugh, but often didn’t. Humour was based on sexuality and cultural differences. Admittedly, some of the audience did laugh at various points, but I don’t believe this was a unanimous reaction.

Chairman Mao/Waiter/Father played by Gabriel Christian was probably the best actor. The quick metamorphosing from Mao to waiter, waiter to Mao early on in the play was amusing. Doubling of roles can be effective when done for a theoretical reason, bringing to mind parallels between figures etc., but this technique is not necessarily beneficial. In this case, it seemed as though they’d simply run out of actors… and why was Chairman Mao personal mentor to ‘Peters’?

I’m not sure what was going on in general, and left with one over-whelming question in mind: What just actually happened? At one point there was singing and dancing, which was, you guessed it, ‘in-your-face’, and had the potential to be funny had the actors fully committed. Unfortunately this made it rather cringe-worthy. The play ended abruptly and with no resolution after just 40 minutes.

One thing that stands out was Peters’ shout-out to the states of America. Literally, he shouted the names of states for a while. A lot of time and energy was dedicated to this… Overall, it seems there was a good idea behind this play, but it wasn’t fully developed or successfully executed.

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Joshua Phillips

at 11:05 on 20th Aug 2013

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‘Beijing Cake’ ought to be a lot more interesting than it actually is. A play about an American diplomat in China who doesn’t speak a word of Chinese, and her son, ‘Beijing Cake’ has the potential to be a rewarding meditation on different kinds of identity - national, personal and familial. But frankly, it doesn’t live up to this potential. What we are presented with, rather, is a script that manages to mash all of these conflicting notions of self-hood and identity into a kind of grotesque and disjointed cabaret, full of gimmicky key-changes and strange little tableaux, but very light on actual entertainment.

To put it bluntly, ‘Beijing Cake’ is not very good. As shambling a script as playwright Rachel Kauder Nalebuff’s is rarely a good place for any production to start. Add to this performances that are frankly lacklustre, and you hardly have the recipe for a stellar production. ‘Beijing Cake’ is an ensemble piece, with the only constant being the presence of Sarah Rosen, who plays Lori - a patronising American diplomat who decides to raise her son in China.

Whilst Rosen is hardly given the most three-dimensional of roles to play – think one of Woody Allen’s neurotic Jewish mothers, but in China – she decides to play her in the same gear throughout the production. Luckily, the rest of the ensemble have to be a little more versatile, by necessity of playing any number of different characters, and perhaps a degree of one-dimensionality in the other actors (Cassie Da Costa, Gabriel Christian and Nathaniel Moore) is therefore understandable, if not entirely desirable.

‘Beijing Cake’ does manage to raise a few giggles now and then, but they seem to be more out of a tortured sense of sympathy than any kind of genuine humour. One joke that seems to be half-decent, where all of the Chinese year names are given corporate sponsorship (“The Year of the Horse, brought to you by Coca-Cola”) seems to be lifted shamelessly from ‘Infinite Jest’ – David Foster Wallace fans take note.

Put simply, there is a lot of genuinely intelligent and probing theatre at the Fringe, a lot of theatre that explores similar notions of self-hood and identity that ‘Beijing Cake’ tries to cover, and it’s far better theatre as well.

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