Yellow Face – reviews of 'sparkling' race comedy

David Henry Hwang's jaunty comedy is a cleverly subversive study of political correctness

Yellow Face
(Image credit: Simon Annand)

What you need to know A revival of David Henry Hwang's comedy Yellow Face has opened at The Shed, National Theatre, London. Pulitzer-prize nominated Asian-American playwright Hwang is best known for his Broadway hit M. Butterfly.

Yellow Face is inspired by the real-life controversy that surrounded the casting of British actor Jonathan Pryce as a French-Vietnamese character in Miss Saigon. In the play a Chinese-American playwright accidentally casts a white actor in the lead Asian role in his new play, but after trying to cover up his error, he is horrified when the actor becomes a poster boy for the Asian-American community.

Director Alex Sims's production premiered in London at the Park Theatre last year. The same cast including David Yip, Gemma Chan, Kevin Shen and Ben Starr appear at The Shed. Runs until 24 May.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

What the critics like Yellow Face "explores and explodes ideas of authenticity in ethnicity" and storytelling with aplomb, says Dominic Maxwell in The Times. Alex Sims's intimate yet dynamic production seizes on the comedy, yet grounds its laughs in the fragile truce that political correctness represents.

Hwang's "sparkling" comedy, has flashes of deep anger too, but cleverly mixes fact and fiction to the point where certainties slip away, says Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times. It's a jaunty, nuanced piece brought to life with warm, sprightly wit and lovely performances.

"Yellow Face could have been a ponderous, preachy affair about ethnicity but, thanks to its amusing, cleverly subversive style, it isn't," says Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph. This intellectually energising evening goes beyond a showbiz footnote to asks what kind of multi-racial society we're striving for.

What they don't like Hwang jumbles autobiographical fact with fiction to comedic (but over-stuffed) effect, says William Moore in the Evening Standard. He doesn't have any answers to racial questions but succeeds in his mission to take words such as "race" and "Asian" and "mess them up so bad nobody knows what they even mean any more".

To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us