“please go watch Amber – I cannot recommend it enough!”

I went into this show, speaking neither Mandarin nor Cantonese, but very excited to see how subtitles could make foreign theatre more accessible in DST and our beloved AR. Amber by Liao Yimei was the perfect show to try out this new system and Yoghurt Theatre Company should be very proud. Director Yibu Jin and her two assistants, Yiqiu Chen and Chloe He brought Yimei’s poetic writing to life, with their dynamic blocking across the multi-level stage creating a continuing thread of fun throughout the show.

Amber follows Gao Yuan, recovering from a heart transplant, as they conspire with a group of their friends to write an obscenely sexy book which challenges the societal stigma and censorship surrounding sex and women’s sexuality. Along the way, Gao Yuan becomes caught between 2 women, Xiao-You and Yue-Yue, who offer them very different things: sex and love.

This love triangle was excellently acted. Zi Lin, as Gao Yuan confidently led the show, with a suave and charming front parting over the course of the show to reveal a troubled core. Zhiyi Yu as Xiao-You is incredibly sympathetic. The use of stillness is tragic, as Xiao-You stands looking helpless next to Gao Yuan; someone with whom she clearly has such intimacy. The evident chemistry shared by these two actors made the performance so believable and touching. Rounding out this trio is Yiying Wang portraying Yue-Yue, as someone clearly beautiful and proud, but also very vulnerable at their heart; she struck an excellent balance between emotion and the comical aspects of the character. 

Even as a massive musical theatre fan, I was delighted to see music onstage that wasn’t showtunes! The four-piece band added an edge to Amber, excellently reflecting the sharp dialogue. The band showed amazing versatility, from hard rock to soft ballads, with the cast providing vocals, notably Yixin Liu (who played Nurse) singing beautifully. A lot of credit should go to Josh Man, the musical director and keys player; he also stepped unexpectedly into the cast, as one of Gao Yuan’s friends, getting some of the audience’s loudest laughs! Choreographer Viola Yu injected excellent physicality into the musical numbers and show as a whole. Throughout, the lyrical dialogue is complimented by excellent use of gestures, especially by Jiawen Li, who showed off his dance skills and excellent body isolations.

I was very impressed with the technical aspects of the show too, props should go to production manager Anna Choi who oversaw the team. I was especially impressed by the lighting, which managed to be colourful and engaging without detracting from the action or feeling too non-naturalistic. I also LOVED the set – the team of five designers managed to do a lot with the space, with raised platforms at the back, against a bold purple and orange backdrop, a bar on the main stage, and a hospital room on the half apron. I thought the inclusion of the monitor with subtitles in the hospital room was very smart, as it blended in with the set, looking completely in place.

My main struggle with this show was the subtitles – the slides were displayed for very varied lengths of time, which generally wasn’t a problem, but it meant that some longer sentences flashed by, whilst short sentences sometimes stayed up far longer than necessary. This could be for a variety of reasons – perhaps the different language structures – but either way, nothing is lost that can’t be extrapolated.

All in all, I had an absolute blast with this show. It was utterly delightful watching a group speaking their native language on stage and having fun. This cast and crew is full of fresh faces to DST, and if this is their first foray, then I can’t wait to see what everyone does next! But in the meantime, please go watch Amber – I cannot recommend it enough!

By Georgia Malkin

Amber is performing at the Assembly Rooms Theatre until 21st January

Photo Credits: Yoghurt Theatre