Summer Rolls review – fascinating tale of Vietnamese family in Essex

... Michael Phong Le and Linh-Dan Pham in Summer Rolls. Photograph: Danté Kim

London,England (The Guardian):
Alight Vietnamese dish served at a family’s restaurant? Or a sneaky spliff rolled by their unruly daughter? Double meanings lie at the heart of the intriguing Summer Rolls by Tuyen Do. It’s an intimate domestic drama, sketched with compassion and steely honesty, about a family who have left war-torn Vietnam and are struggling to forge a shared future in the safety (or is that boredom?) of Essex.

The shifting dynamics – as slippery as the language that young Mai’s parents struggle to adopt – are fascinating to observe. At the centre of the home (coolly lit by Jessica Hung Han Yun) is the mother, otherwise unnamed and played with a brittle ferocity by Linh-Dan Pham. She is the family’s fulcrum: the one who sets the tone (tense), who holds together the family sewing business (fragile), who later runs the restaurant (success!) and who still, when desperately ill, commands the family with a blazing love that is both frightening and comforting.

The director, Kristine Landon-Smith, neatly (sometimes a little too much so) sketches in the family’s stories, past and present, which play out around the periphery of the mother’s domain. The father (Kwong Loke) is haunted by wartime demons; son Anh (Michael Phong Le) is pushed to the edges of a country he struggles to embrace; and daughter Mai (a bolshy Anna Nyugen) and her black boyfriend David (Keon Martial-Phillip) flirt in the shadows, afraid to share their love with a family “still fighting a war” in their heads. Above them all hang Mai’s photos of the local Vietnamese community. These images speak of a war-torn past that can never be fully expressed in words, in any language.

At the Park theatre, London, until 13 July

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