Yellow Face – reviews of 'sparkling' race comedy
David Henry Hwang's jaunty comedy is a cleverly subversive study of political correctness
What you need to know
A revival of David Henry Hwang's comedy Yellow Face has opened at The Shed, National Theatre, London. Pulitzer-prize nominated Asian-American playwright Hwang is best known for his Broadway hit M. Butterfly.
Yellow Face is inspired by the real-life controversy that surrounded the casting of British actor Jonathan Pryce as a French-Vietnamese character in Miss Saigon. In the play a Chinese-American playwright accidentally casts a white actor in the lead Asian role in his new play, but after trying to cover up his error, he is horrified when the actor becomes a poster boy for the Asian-American community.
Director Alex Sims's production premiered in London at the Park Theatre last year. The same cast including David Yip, Gemma Chan, Kevin Shen and Ben Starr appear at The Shed. Runs until 24 May.
What the critics like
Yellow Face "explores and explodes ideas of authenticity in ethnicity" and storytelling with aplomb, says Dominic Maxwell in The Times. Alex Sims's intimate yet dynamic production seizes on the comedy, yet grounds its laughs in the fragile truce that political correctness represents.
Hwang's "sparkling" comedy, has flashes of deep anger too, but cleverly mixes fact and fiction to the point where certainties slip away, says Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times. It's a jaunty, nuanced piece brought to life with warm, sprightly wit and lovely performances.
"Yellow Face could have been a ponderous, preachy affair about ethnicity but, thanks to its amusing, cleverly subversive style, it isn't," says Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph. This intellectually energising evening goes beyond a showbiz footnote to asks what kind of multi-racial society we're striving for.
What they don't like
Hwang jumbles autobiographical fact with fiction to comedic (but over-stuffed) effect, says William Moore in the Evening Standard. He doesn't have any answers to racial questions but succeeds in his mission to take words such as "race" and "Asian" and "mess them up so bad nobody knows what they even mean any more".