Siu-See Hung and Ruth Gibson. Picture: Jonathan Keenan

Mountains: The Dreams of Lily Kwok

Belgrade Theatre Coventry


My granny always said that if ever you were down on your luck, get a job with food.

For Lily Kwok (Tina Chiang), advising her Hong Kong-based lawyer grand-daughter Helen (Sie-See Hung), the whole story revolves around food.

This new piece adapted by In-Sook Chappell from the book Sweet Mandarin by Helen Tse, is as rich as a Chinese dumpling, a deep as the South China Sea and utterly absorbing.

It often makes difficult viewing as scenes are played out involving rape, violence and grinding poverty alongside the opulence and decadence of the English enclave in Hong Kong, the war against Japan and Lily’s own tempestuous marriage to waster, womaniser and gambler Chan (Matthew Leonheart).

There are some clever tricks involved as Lily encourages Helen to ‘live’ her story alongside her own as she experiences dislocation and loneliness in Hong Kong.

I enjoyed the method of showing the transition from the tranquillity of village life to the hurly-burly of the over-populated city. Great-grandfather heads from his village in Guangdong for the bright lights of Hong Kong, to sell his innovative soy sauce. 

He dreams that his sons and their sons will break through the mountains to make a name for themselves. The dreams end with his murder, leaving his wife and Lily with nothing.

There are no generations of sons – only daughters left to deal with his ambition. Lily slaves from age five and is then 23 years as an amar for Mrs Woodman (Ruth Gibson), an unhappy Englishwoman who likes Lily and takes her to England.

Lily dreams of a Chinese restaurant and settles in Manchester, creating the first which thrives for a while until a gambling addiction wipes out everything she has worked for.

Food, however, is the passion that links all the generations of woman together. Helen learns through her grandmother that the ambition to go to Cambridge University and go into law was not her dream at all but food and its creation is what she dreams of.

I really enjoyed the use of music and sound effects throughout (Elena Pena and Ruth Chan). It was constant but unobtrusive and added immensely to the piece. Even the sound of a dog barking in the distance evoked a feeling for a busy city. This is a clever, thought-provoking piece, directed by Jennifer Tang,  that rewards on many levels. To 02-06-18

Jane Howard


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