In- Sook Chappell’s Mountains: The Dreams of Lily Kwok, tells the astounding true story of Lily’s fight to achieve her aspirations, by educating herself out of the slums, out of her hometown and her eventual move to England. This is a multi- faceted tale of determination in the face of adversity, a moving tribute to the original Lily, and those with similar stories the world over.

This production is led by two characters, Lily (Tina Chiang) and Helen (Siu- See Hung). Helen has moved from Manchester to Hong Kong in the search for better opportunities, but realises when she gets there that she has grown up as an English girl and feels even further from her true identity than she was before she moved. What sets off this dream state is Lily’s entrance, as she guides Helen through her past in an effort to show her how true ambition can change your current circumstances- for better or for worse. Hung’s portrayal of the feisty, quick-witted Helen is also peppered with a sweet naivety which makes her character so likeable, a joy to watch. The weight of responsibility that Lily carries through her history is beautifully presented by Chiang, the need to be mature thrust upon her at a very young age, along with the expectation that she has next to no rights just because she is female. Under Jennifer Tang’s direction, the entire cast drives this unbelievable tale with tireless energy and a multitude of characters, each having their moment to shine, with Lucy Cullingford’s movement direction creating moments of fluid unison and motifs to evoke the hubbub of a bustling Hong Kong.

The design of this play is also integral to its success in pulling off the potentially confusing swapping of characters, times and locations, but it is done due justice by Amy Mae (lighting), Elena Peña (sound) and Ruth Chan (composer), each component working to support the cast. To show the mix of old and new, samples of traditional Chinese songs are mixed into new electronic pieces, the buzz of the neon lights snapping to dull overhanging lampshades. Amelia Jane Hankin’s stage design features a platform that can be deconstructed to form an array of props and furniture, making transitions quick and almost unnoticeable, just as it can be in a dream.

Whilst Chappell’s plot suggests how far society has come in regards to racism, sexism and human rights over the last century, she also shows how in some respects, very little has changed, particularly in regards to society’s attitude towards refugees, which makes this production so very topical and insightful. The theme of food runs throughout, with real dishes prepared and cooked onstage, the smell lingering after the evening is over, driving home the notion that family recipes always keep multiple generations connected, feeding into their identity.

Mountains: The Dreams of Lily Kwok played at Stratford Circus until 21 April 2018

Photo: Jonathan Keenan