Yellow Earth Theatre: milestone shows over the last 25 years

We take a look at some of the most iconic work created by British East Asian performers

Yellow Earth Theatre's Running the Silk Road
Yellow Earth Theatre's Running the Silk Road
© Keith Pattison

Since 1995 Yellow Earth Theatre company has continued to provide creative opportunities for British East Asian actors, writers, directors and designers. Frustrated by an industry that left them feeling consistently overlooked, Kwong Loke, Kumiko Mendl, Veronica Needa, David KS Tse and Tom Wu founded the company to create productions they felt they were not given the platform to express. Despite changes in personnel over the years, the group has not only maintained its creative output but also grown to organise writing and acting programmes to nurture the next generation of BEA talent.

25 years on and the company are still going strong – they began 2020 with Fix at Pleasance and will round off the year with The Apology at Arcola Theatre. This is in addition to an 18-month ongoing immersive project titled Tsunagu/Connect, where Yellow Earth are gathering oral testimonies from Japanese women who have been living in the UK since 1945. This research is to culminate in an immersive VR production next year.

To celebrate Yellow Earth's impressive milestone, we take a look at some of their most iconic productions over the last quarter of a century.

New Territories (1996)

Original cast and team for New Territories
Benedict Wong, Claudia Malkovich and Tom Wu in New Territories
© Yellow Earth Theatre

New Territories was the inaugural Yellow Earth Theatre production, released all the way back in 1996. Written and directed by one of the company's five founders David KS Tse, this production was to be the beginning of a long and successful creative output. The story focused on a teenager moving from rural Hong Kong to England and depicted his associated feelings of cultural dislocation.

Behind the Chinese Takeaway (1997)

Original cast and team for Behind the Chinese Takeaway
Veronica Needa, Tom Wu, Antony Key, Erika Tan, Sarah Liew, Tony Lam, David Tse and Cheng Yu in Behind the Chinese Takeaway
© Yellow Earth Theatre

Noted for its use of multimedia, Behind the Chinese Takeaway incorporated photography and video to explore the British Chinese diaspora during the 1997 handover of Hong Kong. The play received praised from the British Chinese Arts Association at the time for its "delirious visual style" and subsequent Yellow Earth productions have also experimented with mixed media.

Play To Win (2000)

Play to Win
Sang Liu, Tom Wu and Kumiko Mendl in Play To Win
© Merlin Hendy

Commissioned by the now defunct Sainsbury's Checkout Theatre (an initiative that encouraged drama programmes for adolescents aged 10 to 14), Play To Win portrayed a vulnerable schoolchild who finds resolve through learning martial arts. Yellow Earth founder Tom Wu's mastery of this form was integral to the production – the actor has gone on to star in films as successful and popular as the recent Batman trilogy, 2019's The Gentlemen and The Fast Saga franchise.

Rashomon (2001)

Kazuko Hohki, Kwong Loke, Liz Sutherland and David Tse in Rashomon
(© James Betts)

Inspired by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa's 20th century short story Rashōmon, Yellow Earth reimagined a classic Japanese 'whodunnit' tale with typical vibrancy and dynamism at the turn of the century. This was certainly one of their most visually striking productions.

King Lear (2006)

King Lear
King Lear
© Yin Xuefeng

Produced in 2006 but set in our current year of 2020, Yellow Earth's bold adaptation of a Shakespeare classic reimagined Lear as an elderly business mogul dividing up an empire between his daughters. Set in a Shanghai penthouse, the production employed both English and Mandarin, with Goneril and Regan's bilingual abilities securing their shares of the inheritance.

Tamburlaine (2017)

Lourdes Faberes and Leo Wan in Tamburlaine
© Robert Workman

For one of their most recent productions, the company staged Christopher Marlowe's epic Tamburlaine at the Arcola Theatre before heading on a tour around the UK. Ng Choon Ping adapted the Elizabethan play about a shepherd who rises to become an emperor and carves out a kingdom through force of will and violence.

Flight Paths (2019)

Flight Paths
Flight Paths
© Christopher Andreou

Staged only last year, Flight Paths was a co-production between Yellow Earth and Extant, one of the UK's leading theatre companies for visually impaired people. The production was inspired by the Goze, blind Medieval Japanese women who travelled the country making a living as epic storytellers. Flight Paths brought together a Japanese viola player, Nigerian soprano and Australian and American aerialists to create a multimedia production that captivated audiences across the country from Curve Leicester to Stratford Circus.