Interview: Actor & writer Tuyen Do on diverse narratives and having her first full play staged
Review: Rosmersholm, Duke of York's Theatre - loved the first half, second not so much

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

Actress and writer Tuyen Do's first full length play Summer Rolls brings a story about a British Vietnamese family to a UK stage for the first time.

13. Anna Nguyen - Summer Rolls - Photographer: Danté Kim
Anna Nguyen - Summer Rolls, Park Theatre. Photo: Danté Kim

Mother (Linh-Dan Pham) believes hard work and drive will result in success. She is strict with her two children Mai (Anna Nguyen) and Anh (Michael Phong Lee) and her husband (Kwong Loke) doesn't come off lightly either.

Mai is bright and works hard but pushes against the boundaries imposed by her mother.

She enjoys photography and delving beneath the surface of a photo but it makes her realise there is far more to her parents and what they've experienced than they outwardly present.

But, she doesn't know how to talk to them about it until almost too late.

1. Linh-Dan Pham  Anna Nguyen - Summer Rolls at Park Theatre - Danté Kim
Linh-Dan Pham and Anna Nguyen,  Summer Rolls, Park Theatre. Photo: Danté Kim

Following the family through Mai's teen years and into early adulthood, the narrative is spliced with the occasional flashback to life in Vietnam.

No-nonsense tough love

Mother is no-nonsense and tough but it is done with love, even if it isn't immediately obvious. She injects context, a reminder of the difficulties and dangerous conditions she and Father left behind.

Like a photo album, the play offers a series of snapshots - key moments. There are some lovely family scenes, so naturally executed that you almost feel like an interloper and it offers an intriguing slice of Vietnamese culture and custom.

7. Michael Phong Le - Summer Rolls - Photographer: Danté Kim
Michael Phong Le - Summer Rolls, Park Theatre. Photo: Danté Kim

There are touching moments too, particularly between Mai and Anh, demonstrating that easeful balance of love-annoyance that siblings have. 

And there is humour too; Mother's sharply forthright observations and remonstrations are particularly funny.

My niggle is that in compressing a lot of story into its two hours (plus interval) running time some plot threads feel underdeveloped and yet the pace occasionally still feels slow.

10. Anna Nguyen - Summer Rolls - Photographer: Danté Kim
Anna Nguyen - Summer Rolls, Park Theatre. Photo: Danté Kim

The set is curious. It's made up of sort of kitchen space to the rear then a divider which doubles for a factory or meeting space with a living room towards the front.

It compresses the action most of which takes places in the living room and can make the play feel a little static.

Nonetheless, it is a solid first play with characters you have sympathy for and enjoy spending time with.

I'm giving Summer Rolls three and a half stars and you can see it at the Park Theatre until 13 July.

You might also like to read:

Interview: Tuyen Do on Summer Rolls and diversity in theatre.

West End review: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Bridge Theatre - bed hopping and role swapping.

From the archive: As everyone is talking about Andrew Scott at the moment this was what I thought of him in The Emporer and The Galilean in 2011.