BATS Theatre, Wellington

21/04/2009 - 02/05/2009

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

08/06/2009 - 13/06/2009

Production Details

Light your way home.

2 actors
9 characters
85 illuminating minutes . . .

Chinese New Year’s Eve is when families get together, eat like gluttons and sweep the house clean of any bad-luck issues before the New Year. Unfortunately for the Chen family, there are a LOT of issues.

Henry is a broken man, consumed by memories of war and immigration.  His children Jen and Ken are still struggling to figure out who they are. And his wife Rose, who walked out of their lives a year ago, reappears just in time for dinner…

Written by emerging NZ-Chinese playwright Renee Liang and featuring an all-Chinese cast, Lantern is not a play about being Asian, or even about being Kiwi-Asian. It’s a play about what it means to be family.

See the play that sold out its debut season at Smackbang Theatre (Auckland) in 2008!

21 April – 2 May 2009, 6.30pm
Bookings: <>  
or 04 802 4175 | Cost: $18/13

Lantern – Presented in Association with STAMP at THE EDGE®
Monday, 8 June 2009 – Saturday, 13 June 2009

“Lantern can be seen and praised as Asian version of Toa Fraser’s Bare – not at all a copycat, but a rich tapestry of characters and an ambitiously epic story, performed by just two actors.” – Lynn Freeman, Capital Times.

Bookings or
(09) 357 3355
Adult $22.00/Concession $18.00
Groups 6+ $18 and Tuesday Student Rush $15
Service fees will apply.  



Cast and Crew 

Actors:  Li-Ming Hu & Andy Wong
Director:  Tony Forster
Writer & Producer:  Renee Liang
Dramaturge:  Gary Henderson
Assoc. Producer:  Chris Tse
Designer:  Bronwyn Bent
Lighting designer:  Yee Yang Lee
Composer:  Andrew McDowall
Publicist:  Brianne Kerr
Operator:  Deborah McGuire
Poster Design:  Peter Agar & Doug Gaylard
Website design:  Peter Agar & Andy Wong
Image:  Andrew Malmo
Models:  Roseanne Liang & David Tsai
Additional photos:  Renee Liang & Chris Tse

List of Characters
Henry Chen, 65 and 35
Rose Chen, 55 and 25
Jen Chen, 29
Ken Chen, 25
Checkout Boy
Religious Lady
Steve, a family friend
Gazza, Ken's best mate
Police Officer





Theatre ,

1h 25 m, no int (Wn)| 1 h 50 m, incl interval (Ak)

Lantern sheds light on Chinese-Kiwi cultural experiences

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 10th Jun 2009

Chinese lanterns – with an inscrutable riddle written on the outside and a flickering flame within – are the central metaphor in Renee Liang’s intimate journey through the fractured domestic life of a New Zealand Chinese family.

With two actors taking on multiple roles, a convoluted family history, stretching back to the Japanese occupation of China, is untangled in an elegantly poetic montage. [More
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Depth and warmth

Review by Candice Lewis 09th Jun 2009

As I walk towards The Basement I see beautiful red lanterns beckoning.  The place is packed; I struggle gracelessly to the bar to get my wine and end up last seated. Unless you also want to be stuck behind the tallest person for the first half of the play, this approach is not recommended.

Lantern is the story of a New Zealand family of Chinese ethnicity struggling to come to terms with recent changes as their mother, Rose Chen, awakens to her own dreams. 

As the Chen family prepare for Chinese New Years Day, various scenes portray how they define themselves, and how others might like to define them.

The Chen family, and an assortment of other roles, are played by Li-Ming Hu and Andy Wong with varying degrees of skill. 

Wong plays the younger roles of Ken (the son), Gazza (best friend) and a beautifully inappropriate checkout boy in a very relaxed and confident manner, whereas I don’t feel entirely convinced by his portrayal of the elderly father, Henry Chen.

Henry Chen is a man with the weight of past war on his shoulders, a man with a scarred soul, one who has tried to do the right thing all his life. Much of the play depends on our empathy for Henry and his family, and so the presence of this character is important.

At one point in the play there is a line about feeling what someone thinks. This is very true in performance; so much can be communicated with very subtle touches and in the way energy is projected.

Hu plays her roles well; I especially like the scene in which she is the young Rose Chen. Her ambivalence towards Henry as they dance is palpable.

In the second half of the play I make sure I get a good seat, and wish I had more easily removable layers of clothing on. It is stifling hot in contrast to the bitterly cold weather outside, and I’m losing concentration.

Fortunately the story does draw me back in, the choppy vignettes have eased off, and the loving energy between brother and sister Ken and Jen feels sweet and conclusive.

This is a lovely play; it has depth and warmth that will make you glad you left the television behind for the evening.

To sweeten the experience further [on opening night only], we are given treats afterwards. I lurk near the steamer like a hungry dog and find the best people to talk to are also by the food. My friend valiantly tries a chicken foot and pronounces it crunchy.

I talk with the youngest older ladies I have ever met. One of them makes me remember her name. "Elsie, like Elsie Tanner from Coronation Street," she smiles mischievously, "and Wong, like Susie Wong!" At 77, she has a few stories of her own, and is so full of humour and beauty I could listen for hours.

She and her gorgeous friend disappeared into the night like glowing stars, or possibly, lanterns.
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Problems shared under one moon

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 23rd Apr 2009

On leaving the opening night of Lantern the audience was handed a Chinese New Year gift of a chocolate dollar and an 11th century poem which ends with the lines: All we can hope for is life enough to see that though a thousand leagues apart, we all look at the same moon.

Renee Liang’s play demonstrates in Tony Forster’s uncomplicated production very clearly that we all look at the same moon. The moon in the case of her over-long two-hander play is family and as a character says: Family, it’s all we’ve got.

Plays about families usually take place at either funerals or weddings or anniversaries or festivals. Lantern takes place on a Chinese New Year’s Eve when a large meal is eaten, and the difficult events of the past year are, like the house, dusted down and tidied up.

The Chen family has a lot of dusting and tidying up to do. Henry is haunted by his childhood memories of the Japanese invasion of China and his subsequent immigration to New Zealand and his admission that he doesn’t know much about this Western thing called love.

His wife Rose has recently walked out on him and their two children Jen and Ken, who are well assimilated into Kiwi life despite racial taunts at school and racial stereotyping from the police and others, are facing problems, not only with their attitudes towards their parents  but also with their career choices, study, and the opposite sex.

Li-Ming Hu and Andy Wong play the parents and their two children as well as sharing six other roles (police, doctor, etc) which is at times a little confusing, particularly at the start before the audience has got the hang of what is happening. They are both appealing and talented performers but it is only towards the end that they – and the play – become much more compelling because it is no longer a play that could just as well have been acted on the radio; no longer a play just for voices.
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Who or what is driving this and why?

Review by John Smythe 22nd Apr 2009

The idea of Lantern is to use the impetus of a Chinese New Year family gathering to reveal their stories, confront their issues and thereby share something of what it is to be a New Zealander with Chinese heritage. The result is not as well crafted as it could have been.

The stories of two generations – Henry and Rose Chen, and their children Jen and Ken – traverse many decades with two actors playing those four roles plus six others. While the Chinese New Year gathering is used to book-end the disparate collection of scenes that make up the 85-minute play, they seem to have been created as a way of telling us general aspects of their stories rather than to serve any immediate need that the characters have.

Who or what is driving this retelling and why?

It starts with an older Chinese man (Henry) saying he doesn’t know much about the Western concept of ‘love’. It becomes apparent that his wife, Rose, left the family home about a year ago and has now returned unexpectedly. The scenes that follow, intercutting relatively distant past with relative recent present, reveal snippets of what led to this state of affairs along with scenes that have nothing to do with it, so the unfolding drama cannot be said to be driven by anyone’s quest.

As a child Henry fled a Japanese invasion, which killed his sister, and witnessed horrific things en route to safety in Hong Kong. Jen (now 29) has to put up with a Checkout boy’s ignorance about her being Asian but born and raised in Auckland, and persisting with "konichiwa" despite knowing her heritage is Chinese. Ken (25) has been kicked out of his hostel and has married a complete stranger in some student benefit lurk. He has to put up with a Religious door-knocker’s attitude to Asians …

Jen, who excelled at maths at school but now wants to be an artist, has typical online dating experiences. She was tormented at school and finished up friends with the biggest bully (not that this goes anywhere else in the story). Ken has self-esteem issues because he thinks his father has no interest in him and his mother’s walked out, which leads to behaviour that provokes Jen to call him worthless too.

The most extended sequence of the whole play involves Jen and Ken having an argument in Henry’s car which leads to an accident and some broad comedy as she tries to pretend, to a cop, she is a Chinese tourist. Suddenly it’s a revue sketch.

The second Act (following a brief scene change) focuses more on Rose and Henry, revealing how she went to Hong Kong to find a Chinese husband and settled for him despite neither speaking each other’s language. Despite their initial mutual love – she has no trouble with the concept of romantic love – life unsurprisingly gets difficult back in Auckland and having two children doesn’t reduce the stress. Rose also runs their shop downstairs while Henry hides upstairs with his books and hi-fi.

The third Act brings us back to this Chinese New Year, the discovery that Rose has returned, Ken’s blunt anger at her for leaving, Henry’s hope that she’s back for good … But she has made a new life for herself in Sydney. Ken’s speech at the table (a traditional role for the youngest) takes a comic turn when he uses it to confess to his latest misdemeanours without having to face up to any consequences. And there is some pathos in realising that although Rose is now learning Chinese at last, which leads to her realising Henry is a beautiful writer in his own language, this will not resolve the marriage.

Rose’s attempts to repair perceived hurts by offering the traditional red envelope with money meets with hostility. The breaking of a vase that is emblematic of mating for life provides a moment of high drama but is a bit too obvious to make its point effectively.

Jen and Ken, whose bond as brother and sister transcends their natural antagonism,  seem ready at last to make their own ways in the world – and I think there is a hint (correct me if I’m wrong) that she gets him to admit that his feelings for his best friend Gazza are more than just mateship.

The play ends with Jen and Ken bringing in lanterns which are explained as being just like life: there’s a flickering flame that keeps them going and a riddle on the side … (hence the title). Again, too over-stated to impress us as profound.

Li-Ming Hu and Andy Wong play their multiple roles with skill and commitment, abetted by director Tony Forster who maintains a seamless flow of action. Hu is especially adept at delineating her characters and managing the transitions. And it’s great to see some Auckland talent live on a Wellington stage.

I’m left in two minds. The many short scenes and multiple role-plays, combined with the aforementioned lack of a driving purpose, offer little opportunity for us to engage with the characters and their concerns. As a result, what does emerge seems rather clichéd, or lacking in depth at least. On the other hand, Lantern allows us to compare the details of these particular life experiences with what we all have in common.

If the play progresses through further development, I’d suggest the questions above be addressed and consideration be given to having a larger cast (unless it is absolutely Jen and Ken’s quest and they get intrinsic value from role-playing their parents).
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