Gold Mountain is based upon the life experience of the playwright, David Yip. Born in Liverpool to a Chinese father and English mother, the narrative follows his father’s story from Guangzhou through to the shores of North West England.
Throughout the work the audience are introduced to the father’s life story, including the reasons behind his banishment from China. On arrival in Liverpool, he gravitated towards the existing Chinese community looking for solace in an unknown territory. As in all communities one makes both friends and foes, and the Chinese (then considered outsiders) were all aiming to make the best living they could in the difficult circumstance, even if this meant metaphorically stabbing others in the back.
As life in the UK unfolded, with marriage, numerous children, and both good and bad financial times, the socio-political happenings in China were also relayed in a bid to explain the father’s behaviour. This aspect strengthened the narrative, as well as raising questions about people who assume an existence in a foreign country. The idea that one recognises a foreign place as home is a contradiction in terms itself, but a reality for many – hence why a sense of loss and misplacement resonated from the work.
The gravitas of the piece is realised through more than just Yip’s (and co-writer Kevin Wong’s) script, and communicates a collaborative dynamic from the outset. Yip was contacted by the Unity Theatre (Liverpool) in regards to writing a piece based around his identity. Having recently spent time with his father before his death, and recording the conversations that took place, Yip felt like he had a narrative basis with merit, but was unsure of how to frame it effectively. This is when the Unity made contact with the Montreal based artistic collective Les Deux Mondes. Established in 1973, the company’s ethos is one of accessibility and collaboration; in essence they make art/theatre available to all. They also pride themselves heavily on disseminating their work globally through seeking projects that include artists from numerous countries – hence Gold Mountain.
In performance the piece worked well. It gave a consummate socio-political context to both locations (China/Liverpool) by using autobiographical material as the portal. Rather than opting for a straight forward monologue approach, the collaborative team decided to make the work a multimedia-heavy experience. This included the use of music, film footage, visual projections, screens through which the actors were visible (enabling for physical dramatisation), and a plethora of props ranging from mechanical dolls to portable strip lighting. Sound too busy? If yes... this is also how it felt when observed live. Though the multimedia discipline is a massive advantage for theatre production, those au fait with the genre mustn’t be tempted to get too carried away. The (mass) inclusion didn’t ruin the overall experience, but it did make it feel a tad in-ya-face at times – and the use of projected text felt more like a generic PowerPoint presentation, or one of those educational films geared towards primary school audiences – as in mildly patronising.
Both actors did a good job with the script. Yip, as his father, gave a convincing portrayal (as one would hope), and Eugene Salleh, as a young Yip, executed a performance of credible duality, showing both the care and disregard one can only hold simultaneously for a family member.
If ever in doubt, ‘less is more’ is the policy I would always return to. And I can’t help but feel that the production’s luxurious development time could have been used more wisely. They needed to really look at the work and decide what was necessary and what was superfluous.