Vietnamese delights at Loong Kee Restaurant

Our blurb for the up-coming tour of The Golden Dragon reads as follows:

On a typical evening, anywhere in Europe, you walk into your local Thai/Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant, and the whole world is there. Everyone connected to everyone else, through this one place…

The Golden Dragon is a funny and theatrical fable of modern life and migration, whisking you from your local takeaway to East Asia and back, revealing what really goes into that bowl of spicy soup.

So the natural thing was to take a trip to a restaurant in the name of research.  The cast and company took a little jaunt yesterday to the rather delicious Loong Kee Vietnamese restaurant in Bethnal Green, where our publicity photo for the production was taken. 

Choosing publicity shots and marketing for any new production is always challenging, as invariably the show will not have started rehearsals yet, and the design and look of the show gets finalised much later on in the production process.  So you are in a sense ‘working blind’: there is a need to recreate the vision the production team articulate about the show, without making it too stylised.  There is a real risk of creating something which ends up being out of tone with the final production.   There are also a number of practical issues you need to consider, such as the placement of text on the picture, and whether your information and logos will fit around the images chosen etc etc.  It’s a tricky business.

Ramin sent ATC HQ out to take photographs of restaurants in the local area to see if we could find inspiration.  Kendall (O’Neill), our Administrator and Events Manager, came up with the winning shot to the left.  Despite having no people within shot, there is a sense of dynamism: the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. 

Our publicity image is perfect for the show, but cannot begin to capture the feeling of the kitchen at its busiest.  The staff at Loong Kee kindly let the whole team into the kitchen and watch their preparations as they opened up for the evening.  The actors were quick to respond to the sensory experiences of being in the kitchen: the noise, the heat and the feel of the floor beneath your feet.  Also fascinating was the way in which the movements of the chefs were choreographed. Behind the main cooking area were rows and rows of different spices, herbs and ingredients.  Apparently the placement of these items is fixed, so the chefs can reach behind and grab what they need while cooking without event looking.  The whole kitchen had a structure and rhythm to its process which was beautiful to watch.  We took a few videos of people’s immediate reactions to the space, which will be put up on the ATC website soon.

So rather than the design and layout of the kitchen, it was the movement and feel of the space which was of particular inspiration to the cast.  And these reactions seem to marry well with the representation of location in The Golden Dragon itself.  The stage location is something intangible: not a specific restaurant, but a ‘Thai/Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant’ which is only recognisable by its anonymity.   The play’s themes explore the way stories and locations are intimately connected, despite geographical and cultural distance.  Location, as well as characterisation, is mutable and ever-changing.  This sophisticated and playful use of location echoes the structure of the stories being told within the play.  Without giving too much away about the script, (this production will be the English premiere and the first performance of the play in English, ably translated by David Tushingham), there is a continual dialectic going on between global and local issues.  The play’s location spins across the world whilst at all times being confined to the stage space.

As one blogger describes here, the food was scrumptious.  As a non-meat eater, I do tend to judge restaurants on the quality of their vegetarian options, and here the tofu they cooked for me was melt-in-the-mouth.  And somehow it tasted even better knowing that Jack (Tarlton) had watched and also got involved with the cooking of the mini-feast we all enjoyed.  Here’s to a few more research trips of this sort …