Friday night and the foyer of the Theatre Royal was heaving with a truly diverse mix of people positively buzzing with excitement in anticipation of Takeaway, a new musical by Robert Lee and Leon Ko. Unfortunately, as I took my seat in a half empty theatre, it became clear that most of the crowd were only there for the bar and the restaurant. After a short delay due to “technical problems” the show began, rather awkwardly. There was a sense of slight embarrassment and nerves, although this settled after the first ten minutes. Lee’s script and lyrics are highly amusing and Ko’s music managed to overcome the dodgy microphones.
Takeaway follows the story of Eddie Woo, a struggling, angst-ridden teenager with girl problems and no future prospects, stuck working in his Dad’s Chinese takeaway, ‘Happy Families’. Eddie loves and admires Tom Jones and has a crack at singing in a talent show. He is struggling with his sexuality and his father has found a woman whom Eddie believes will replace his mother. His pubescent world is in chaos!
Before I continue, it is important to note that this is no ordinary ‘boy has dream of being a star and all his dreams come true’ story. Takeaway introduces us to a vibrant range of characters including an ex-Hong Kong Hollywood star and Tom Jones himself. Shelley Williams covers all of the smaller roles with excellent clarity of characterisation and bags of energy. Gloria Onitiri and Marcus Ellard give excellent performances, although it is fair to say that the cast as a whole are strong. Any doubts I had at the start about the abilities of the actors to portray teenagers were soon dispelled and I applaud the cast for their commitment to character.
The first half is all about sex, sex, sex, with some bold and striking choreography to represent the growing demands of Eddie’s love interests and brilliant song lyrics including, “I’ll be Central Asia you be Genghis Khan” and “We’ll do it slow as the District Line” that had the audience wiping away the tears of laughter. Yet woven in amongst the sexual references and teenage angst of the characters is the underlying issue of race. Takeaway introduced almost every racial stereotype under the sun with just enough humour to ring true without offence. We are presented with the views of the different generations with sensitivity. It is rare to see a “Chinese” musical and perhaps it is unavoidable that race will become an issue of the piece. At times this production is maybe a touch too self-referential, (including a traditional Lion Dance and ribbon twirling), however it didn’t come across as trying to force some big message down the throats of the audience, and it made sure to give a range of viewpoints.
Takeaway works because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It has all the high drama, energy and emotional ups and downs of a conventional West End Musical. Watch with a pinch of salt and you are sure to enjoy yourself!
Takeaway is playing at Stratford East until 9th July. For information and tickets, see the website here. Image by Robert Day.