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David Yip On ... Revisiting Gold Mountain

David Yip’s acclaimed 2010 play Gold Mountain, based on his relationship with his Chinese father, returns to Liverpool’s Unity Theatre this week (10-13 April) before transferring to the Albany in London (25-29 April).

Yip is an actor whose film credits include Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and A View to a Kill. On stage, he’s appeared in King Lear (RSC/Yellow Earth Theatre & Shanghai Dramatic Co), Brecht’s Turandot (Hampstead Theatre) and The King & I at the Royal Albert Hall.  

David Yip: Gold Mountain is a rarity because it's a play about the Chinese community that has come from that community, a community that has always had a veil of suspicion and a fear of speaking out and bringing family affairs into the glare of public view. Many families will discuss things with you one to one but the moment it’s suggested that a wider audience would appreciate it, the shutters come down.

Even in my own case it took over 20 years for me to be able to use the transcripts I had made of a series of conversations with my dad. He'd withdrawn into a pattern of living which saw him go to bed at 4pm in the afternoon and get up at 4am in the morning. The stories that emerged from these conversations were quite harrowing and disturbing and at the time I judged my father very harshly as a “waste of space”.

It was finally through writing and performing Gold Mountain that I learned to respect my father for the man he was; after all, without him I wouldn’t be here. Gold Mountain is not directly about our relationship but we're in there somewhere...

Unity Theatre in Liverpool kept pestering me to do something for them and with the 2008 European Capital of Culture in mind, Kevin Wong and I started to put ideas together. I felt though that the project was lifeless, it was only when Graeme Phillips’ trip to Montreal brought about a partnership with Les Deux Mondes (LDM), a multimedia theatre company of international acclaim, that new life was breathed into it.

They took a very lean outline of a story for two actors and through their amazing process of enquiry, experimentation and flair, we brought a whole new world to the stage exploring China’s turbulent 20th Century history.

The piece also required an emotional honesty in the script, which I was finally inspired to bring to it when I became the sole writer and rewrote each scene as our work demanded.

The iconic image of Gold Mountain is of the mirrored image of Mary, the mother figure, projected onto two large fans opened out like butterfly wings. It's also an image which tells a lot about why this production came about and how it was devised.

Working with two screens and two projectors, one in front and one behind, we went through a long process of trial and error which was never fruitless or depressing but a journey of discovery, testing the leaps of imagination until we found what was required to tell each piece of the story.

At one time I felt strongly that the character of Mary had to be played by an actress, as she was so pivotal to the story, but the economics wouldn’t allow for another actor.

On returning to Montreal to prepare the play for performance, LDM had found a perfect image for Mary which we projected in many different ways throughout the story - She makes an incredible statement without ever speaking.

Also this image is the sort we see in dreams fitting perfectly with the way we play with both visual and spoken truth - what you see and hear is not always what you think it is.

Gold Mountain has played in Liverpool and Montreal so far, and from the feedback I know that it has made many in the Chinese Community realise that they can speak out and what they have to say is  important in defining our place in the UK’s history.

Internationally, the story of Gold Mountain is about a son trying to come to terms with his father’s life and attempting to sift out the truth from years of stories, lies and make-believe.  This has touched many nationalities and made them see the relevance to their own communities and cultures.