The Ovalhouse's new season entitled "You Might Also Like…" opens with a Moongate Production The Fu Manchu Complex. The season hopes to provide audiences with new experiences by taking familiar expectations and undermining them and The Fu Manchu Complex attempts this by lampooning detective fiction and applying a hyper-prejudiced lens.
Every stereotype is catered for: the Chinese are shifty orientals, the Irish are potato-eating plebs and the British are, well, racist. Paul Chan is impressive as detective Nayland Smith, a typical Sherlock Holmes-type character who investigates the rising influence of the nefarious Fu Manchu (Chipo Chung). Smith's sidekick Dr Petrie (Andrew Koji) provides a foil and works a classic double-act, with fun slapstick humour and a nice on-stage chemistry.
It's a dynamic that evokes the duos of Blackadder and the ironically racist jokes could have come straight from an episode of Richard Curtis and Ben Elton's classic comedy. Where Blackadder's comedy shined however, was in the subtlety with which it both portrayed these stereotypes and undermined itself and The Fu Manchu Complex is never really close to this mark.
The characters are all gross stereotypes and this of course fits with the idea of a subversive farce. The real problem with this approach however is that Daniel York's writing just isn't quite funny enough to carry the play. There are some hilarious moments (Moj Taylor's elderly Scottish maid is brilliant and the ninja charades scene certainly gains many laughs) but this is not maintained throughout. Left with just these crude caricatures it is hard for the audience to take any of the ethical issues to heart.
It's not completely bereft of significance: there is something both unnerving and compelling about an all-Asian cast in white-face, especially as England's borders close, UKIP gains support and the EDL besiege Tower Hamlets. However, without giving us either more human characters to empathise with or more laughs, The Fu Manchu Complex is just not quite complex enough.