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Review: Summer Rolls, Park Theatre - tough love viewed through a lens in the first British Vietnamese play

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.

3.Michael Phong Le  Linh-Dan Pham - Summer Rolls - Photographer: Danté Kim
Michael Phong Le Linh-Dan Pham in Summer Rolls, Park Theatre. Photo: Danté Kim

You write, act and direct - which came first and do you think acting makes you a better writer and director or vice versa?

Acting came first, and through learning the craft of acting I started to play with writing and directing.

All three disciplines overlap and inform each other, but still, require differing skills.

Acting has helped me write dialogue, understand character, obstacles, and wants in a scene, but the craft of creating a story with structure and purpose is something learnt only through writing itself.

Similarly with directing. I understand the mechanics of how an actor might work and even how to get that actor to a certain performance, but to create a vision for the whole show, I feel is best left to more experienced directors.

Acting informs to a certain extent the other two, but one thing I know for sure is that writing and directing have definitely made me a better actor.

Who inspires you to do all three... and who would you most like to work with and in what capacity?

Sudha Bhuchar has been my absolute inspiration as she is an actor-writer herself.

She has been my mentor throughout this journey and, with Kristine Landon Smith, has empowered me to use my full self to create work. Luckily I am working with both of them on Summer Rolls.

As an actor, I would absolutely love to work with Simon Stone. I saw his Yerma through NTLIve and was blown away.

I saw truth and rawness throughout which I have always strived for in my acting.

To see actors be so free and give such powerful performances was astounding. 

The Great Wave was one of my favourite plays in London last year, do you think the diversity of narratives is starting to improve and is it getting any easier to get theatre made?

There has definitely been an explosion of minority-led stories in the last few years, and I hope it is set to continue.

Their success will undoubtedly have an impact on the way producing theatres might look at scripts from differing backgrounds but we still have a long long way to go.

There are still too few for minority voices to break that barrier of being seen as another minority voice or story.

I don’t think it’s getting easier to get theatre made. I think people are just getting braver and more determined to get them made.  

What are you working on next?

Together with the other half of VanThanh Productions Tuyet Van Huynh, we have big plans.

There are a pile of scripts waiting for us to read to choose our next project, as well as expanding our network of developing artists, running workshops and generally creating a wave of new work.

Personally, I have a one-woman show I am working on and a few other ideas up my sleeve. It’s a very exciting time. 

Summer Rolls is at Park Theatre until 13 July and you can read my review here.

About Tuyen Do

Tuyen Do is an actor, writer and director. Acting stage credits include Pah-La (The Royal Court) and The Great Wave (National Theatre).

As a writer, she has been part of Royal Court's studio group and Tamasha Playwrights.

Her work has been performed with Tamasha, Kali, and Yellow Earth theatre company and her short film Healthy screened internationally and won honourable mention for Best Short, and Best Supporting Actor at the Asians on Film Festival in LA 2014.

Her directing debut, short film Above the Waist earned her a Best Director nomination.

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