Photos courtesy Sky High Productions
First off, go see it. Travel with Mum ends tonight (Saturday, Sept. 16) so you haven’t long to get tickets to this show at Gateway Theatre.
This Chinese language production with English subtitles is different but not weird. Like going to the finest Chinese restaurant to have the rich flavours of another cuisine, Travel with Mum offers rich drama and humour sauced with music that soothes and engages.
It’s all done with breathtaking skill by actors and musicians at the top of their game. The stage craft cleverly uses minimal sets and effects to weave us into the fabric of the tale. Even the sand that stands in for a vicious hail storm is flung about with such skill that the arcs of sand never quite touch the performers struggling in the bitter weather.
It’s a show that begins with its ending, not a spoiler but a reassurance that mom does reach her destination, Tibet.
In a village in China, a frail elderly mother decides to go sight-seeing to the other end of the country. Her son reluctantly agrees, builds a pedal tricycle for mum to sit in back, and sets off for a journey of thousands of miles. They encounter storms, jungles, weariness and wonders.
The mum, at 99, has spunk. She’s seen and done much. The son sees little need for wonder or adventure in his life. His journey with “Mum” changes him, and changes us, as their odyssey progresses.
The pace of the subtitles followed the best format of usually anticipating the action by a hair’s breadth so we could read them then watch the action.
Though the pace occasionally slipped, in poetic, idiomatic English, my Cantonese-speaking companion said the translation followed the script clearly.
While it would have been nice to have the subtitle screens closer to the action, to be able to take in words and actions at once, the realities of the production probably dictated the screens be off to the sides.
To invest the time and money to provide English subtitles is an olive branch, a keen invitation for inclusion to the English speakers of Richmond on the part of our Asian community. It was my pleasure to accept this invitation. I encourage others to grasp this olive branch. You won’t be sorry.
The themes, ideas and emotions are universal. Who hasn’t had to deal with a bossy elder criticising, nagging or pushing you to do something they felt you should do or bringing up long-buried memories?
Is it like a pair of comfortable shoes, a drama just like an English one? No. And isn’t that why we travel to far-flung places? That’s why we go to a Chinese restaurant, for something different that’s enriching, and thoroughly enjoyable.
It’s the same with Sky High’s production of Travel with Mum, different and really delicious to experience. Experience because you don’t just watch this performance, you feel it. The lilting music, not the least bit foreign to Anglophone ears, weaves the threads of the story together.
The singer, percussionist, strings, and harmonica players sooth the audience as the travellers’ journey is punctuated by different variations on the melodic musical theme.
Like those wonderful Chinese dumplings with beef broth in them, Travel with Mum is not something you’d have at home but when that rich broth seeps forth, you enjoy the dumpling all the more.This show is the same, an experience presented by performers at the top of their game, who offer a rich experience for all.
Travel with Mum nourishes the soul, in any language.
PS: Take your hanky.