Musicals have never been afraid to tackle themes along racial lines and celebrating different cultures – the commonality of people, as well as the differences. In It Tastes Like Home, multicultural Britain is viewed through the prism of cooking and two families who have their respective ‘traditions’.
It Tastes Like Home opens with the Chen family at their family restaurant, with mother, father and son humorously thinking they’re each the star of the show. In terms of the backstory, Jian Chen (Sok-ho Trinh) came to the UK in the 1980s, and eventually brought Mei (Susan Mitchell) his wife over to help put down roots and set up a business. Since then, Jian and his youngest son Yi (Jarrod Lee) work hard cooking at the family restaurant, which is popular in the local community.
One of their most frequent visitors is Camilla Morgan (Melissa Parke) who has a penchant for Chinese cooking, as well as flavoursome food in general. Unbeknownst to Camilla, her favourtite food vlog star ‘Big Yi’ is actually the online persona of Yi. Much like the dynamic between Lois Lane and Clark Kent/Superman, Camilla thinks Yi is ‘nice’, but what really piques her interest is the confident (and masked) ‘Big Yi’ with his passion and imagination.
Asides from a love of cooking, there is one thing that Camilla and Yi have in common and that is expectations from family to do well and settle down. In the case of Camilla, her perenially-absent brother Sinclair (which is an ongoing joke throughout the show) spends most of his time working long hours so that he can be promoted. However, as the boyfriend of Camilla’s best friend Rosina (Rochelle Thomas) the family get to hear how how he’s doing through her. But while Sinclair is content with his pursuit for advancement, the prospect of promotion for his sister holds little appeal, thinking instead to pursue her true passion…
As well as the parallels between Camilla and Yi, Camilla’s father Desmond (Daniel Grant) and mother Monica (Andrea Leslie), like the Chens, have a similar outlook and experiences. Also similar is the dynamic between husband and wife, with Monica and Mei generally more outspoken and opinionated than their easy-going husbands. Both women also want to ‘move back home’, having spent 30 years in Britain and feeling that they’ll never be treated as ‘British’…
While the show is a romantic comedy with plenty of humour, it doesn’t shy away from the negative experiences that ‘people of colour’ face in everyday life, whether it be how they’re treated in public or in the workplace. Still, through the medium of song, the feelings of each of the characters are explored and how life has tempered their outlook.
What with The Great British Bake Off being one of the most popular programmes on television, it makes sense that a modern musical explores cultural identity through the nation’s favourite pastime. ‘Fusion’ is a word that crops up time and time again in the show, and it’s used to describe complimentary food and cooking styles that bring out the best in each other. As a metaphor for the cultural melting pot of the 21st century, It Tastes Like Home shows that variety is indeed the spice of life.
© Michael Davis 2018
Directed by Roman Berry
Book and lyrics by Lorna Wells
Music by Eudora Yuting Qiao
It Tastes Like Home runs at Bread & Roses Theatre until 27th October.