West Midlands audiences are invited on an incredible journey across two continents and over 80 years of
history this spring, with Mountains: The Dreams of Lily Kwok arriving at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre 30
May – 2 June.
Adapted from Helen Tse’s bestselling memoir Sweet Mandarin, this powerful new play unfolds the
extraordinary true story behind the founding of the famous Manchester restaurant that gave the book its
From a tiny, impoverished village in rural China via the bright lights of Hong Kong, to the industrial English
north west, this evocative retelling by Yellow Earth Theatre and Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester
follows three generations of women in a moving story of human resilience and the power of food to bring us
Brought to the stage by an all-female creative team, Mountains: The Dreams of Lily Kwok comes to
Coventry after opening to rave reviews in Manchester. Ahead of its arrival in the Midlands, playwright In-
Sook Chappell and director Jennifer Tang tell us more about what to expect from the show…
“It’s an epic narrative that sweeps across generations and includes struggle, love, death, family, ambition,
war… it has everything! And of course, it’s a true story, which makes it even more compelling,” says
“I think In-Sook’s adaptation is brilliant in the way it uses really playful and inventive means of storytelling,”
she continues. “It isn’t a simple memory play – it’s inherently theatrical, with lots of room for playfulness and
creativity. I loved how immersive the script felt, and how it plunged me into a world that felt both beautiful
and dangerous at the same time.”
On stage, the story begins in the 21 st century, with Helen (as played by Siu-See Hung), delving into her
family history. Brought up in the UK by a Chinese family, Helen feels as though there’s something missing.
Determined to fill in those gaps and discover who she really is, she heads out to her mother’s Hong Kong
birthplace for the first time.
Rina Takasaki. Photo credit Jonathan Keenan“It’s a great story and emotionally I connected with the themes,” says In-Sook Chappell. “I identified very strongly with a central character who goes back to Hong Kong in search of her identity and history and through learning who she is radically changes her life and finds her place in the world.
“I was born in Korea but came to the UK as a baby and was brought up English,” she adds. “Because of
this, I am interested in how immigrants often erase a part of themselves to fit in. I’m also fascinated by
identity and the importance of connection to your original culture.”
Tang agrees: “On a personal level, I felt really drawn to the script because it tells the story of a woman from
a community which I think is often overlooked in the UK. Stories about the Chinese are rare. Stories that
recognise that there are Chinese people in the UK – first, second or even third generation – who identify
themselves as British, are even more rare. As a British-born Chinese woman myself, In-Sook’s script felt
like a chance to tell a story from a (usually) unheard voice, and that felt really exciting and important to me.”
But this isn’t just a story of migration: it’s also a story of women’s experiences of social structures that can
often feel restrictive, and of how attitudes have steadily shifted over the years. Out in Hong Kong amidst the
bustling streets and skyscrapers of the city, Helen encounters her grandmother, Lily Kwok. It’s through her
stories that Helen is able to step inside her family’s past, their conversations revealing shocking secrets
and providing the key to understanding who she is.
“Lily is someone who has been overlooked all her life, and people like Lily’s voices aren’t often heard,” says
Chappell. “I hope people really empathise and identify with her and go away thinking about her
Lived through an age in which the role of provider was still generally reserved for men, this “extraordinary
life” sees Lily becoming the breadwinner for her family, struggling to raise her hungry children while working
a demanding full-time job.
“It struck me that this was an important story to tell – a story about women, told by women,” says Tang. “I
think for this story particularly, having a creative team of women was the right choice to bring the show to
life. We have two strong female leads, and I was keen to keep strong female role models both on-stage
But whatever hardships Lily faces in her life, the one thing always guaranteed to bring her real joy is food,
whether through experimenting with her own recipes or recreating traditional family favourites handed down
through generations. Decades later, this love of food is taken up by her granddaughters, when Helen and
her sisters go on to become successful chefs in their own right.
“I believe it’s important to know your family history because to some extent we are all our mother’s and
grandmother’s stories,” says Chappell. “In the book, Helen wrote about ‘walking in our shoes’, and I liked
the idea of Helen playing Lily and discovering her story that way.
“It’s about dreams and memory and I thought it would be interesting to tell the story through Lily’s fading
memory, so a smell might take us to a different part of the story and certain memories overlap. I wanted it
to be like falling into a dream, when you aren’t in control, but just have to go with it.”
Mountains: The Dreams of Lily Kwok runs at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry from Wednesday 30
May until Saturday 2 June, with a live pre-show cookery demonstration taking place ahead of the
show on Thursday 31 May.
Tickets are available to book now by calling the box office on 024 7655 3055, or by visiting www.belgrade.co.uk, where prices are even cheaper.