5 minutes with Candy Ma: 'Chinglish is increasingly relevant to today's world'

The actress explains her new project ”Chinglish” and how the Chinese and UK theatre-scene is different

Candy Ma
Candy Ma
© Isaac Peral

Chinglish is about an American businessman who comes to China to establish a new sign business. In China the signs have beautiful letters, but the English translation is often totally stupid. Like a disabled toilet can be 'deformed men toilet'. It's very, very bad. So this business man has come to help companies fix this, but he encounters lots of multi-layered politics and has a complicated relationship with a woman called Xi Yan, who I play.

The issue in the play with signs is one that happens in real life. It was only when I started with this play that I realised how completely ridiculous it is, because I don't ever look at the English on the signs. I only ever read the Chinese.

The cast of Chinglish is bilingual. In the play we speak Mandarin, but when foreigners communicate we speak in broken English. We switch from Mandarin to English throughout, but there are surtitles at the top to explain what is going on to the audience in English. There are actors who know Chinese, but there are also actors learning it. It's really funny watching them learn, I find it so fascinating.

The audition for Chinglish was my first experience of the play. I think it is absolutely relevant today, especially now with President Trump and the western world being so messed up. A lot of the new officials in China are hoping that China will replace America as being top of the world and the play reflects that.

I studied music in China and I loved dancing. I loved being on stage from a young age. It was a natural progression to go into acting. When I moved from China ten or 11 years ago, I fell in love with theatre here. Most of my professional life has been based in England.

Ten years ago the Chinese theatre scene was very different to now. There was a lot of Chinese and Cantonese operas that were very traditional. I think that is gradually changing and we are moving to musical theatre plays and Shakespeare. We have a lot more western companies doing Shakespeare in China.

Chinglish opens at the Park Theatre on 28 March and runs to 22 April, with previews from 22 March.