BATS Theatre, Wellington

06/04/2006 - 13/04/2006

Production Details

Written & performed by Katlyn Wong
Lighting designer Martyn Roberts


‘Working on mui’ (little sister), writes Katlyn Wong, ‘I wanted to share a story of my life and the effects of how we hold onto the memory of one woman, my mother … Travelling back through the events of family, I was able to to truly appreciate this life I have been given … Since I was young I have been fascinated by the other world. It’s a bit of escapism, but really much more to do with the culture, superstition and tradition that I come from. Whether my reality is a delusion or my delusions are my reality, I’ve had a wicked time exploring whether this life I have is about fate, or about choice.’

Theatre , Solo ,

1 hr

Fragments of immigrant experience

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 17th Apr 2006

A common occurrence amongst graduating students from Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School is to develop devised solo works that were class exercises into fully-fledged pieces of theatre, often mentored by senior tutors. Such a work is Katlyn Wong’s solo piece Mui which played at BATS Theatre.  

A Cantonese-speaking Chinese who came to New Zealand as a small girl, Wong is the youngest sister of two, hence the title of the piece, Mui, meaning little sister in Cantonese. Like many ethnic actors before her, Wong has used the process of creating a piece of theatre to not only delve into her family history but also to help her come to terms with being a non-European in a European society.  

Her mother grew up in Maoist China but escaped from the Cultural Revolution by swimming across to Hong Kong. It was there that Wong was born, emigrating a few years later to New Zealand along with her older sister and parents. 

Her father then tried unsuccessfully to settle in Canada with the girls but soon returned to New Zealand, where Wong spent the rest of her time growing up, the play ending with the recent death of her Gung Gung – her grandfather. 

This is all described vibrantly and colourfully using snippets of significant moments in her life in a mixture of Cantonese and broken English. Many of these snippets, though, are too brief and too loaded with characters to really connect with the audience. 

Highly energetic and animated, Wong does, however, give a masterly performance as she slips in and out of these characters with easy, moving on and off stage with the fluidity of a dancer, totally confident and committed in her performance.  

And though it was confusing at times trying to identify time, place and who is interacting with whom, the fragmented structure of the piece has a uniqueness that moves it out of the realm of simply telling a person’s life story. With Martyn Roberts creative lighting enhancing it’s oriental charm it does make for an interesting piece of theatre.


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An almost mystical coherence

Review by John Smythe 06th Apr 2006

Mui – it’s Cantonese for little sister and the youngest girl in a family – is an elusive, allusive and delightfully illusory theatrical experience. Like the moon lady, whose simple little romantic tale book-ends the play, it dances on water, reflecting glimpses of an extraordinary and very real recent family history. 

Behind and before a large white silk curtain, used for projections, back-lit silhouettes (another beautifully conceived lighting design from the ubiquitous Martyn Roberts), entrances and exits, Katlyn Wong evokes the experiential moments that let to her being here, a graduate of Toi Whakaari (not that drama school gets a mention, as such). 

False starts and quaint misunderstandings soon give way to the substantive though elusive story that begins in China with the discovery of a baby in a storm. Is this the one who is asked to leave the swimming class in 1976 but swims to freedom in Hong Kong? Such specifics are hard to fathom but logic says she must be because it is she – I think – who becomes the mother of two daughters, Aimee and Kat.  

They come to New Zealand in 1984, the girls grow up as New Zealanders, but the Cantonese culture permeates their lives, for better or worse. Someone dies, I’m not sure who. There is a trip to Canada. Superstition is pooh-poohed by the father yet he throws sticks to decide whether Canada or New Zealand will be best for his girls. Lucky for us, New Zealand wins. 

The most striking thing about Wong’s performance is that by recreating the states of being some eight or nine people, many talking in Cantonese or bringing Cantonese cadences to their limited English, she offers brief yet penetrating insights that achieve an almost mystical coherence. 

At the end of the hour we have been to exotic places and seen our own land through very different eyes while being amused and moved by the universal sameness of human experience and family dynamics. A delightful sequence with the two girls and their grandfather at a coffee shop ("In China it is very hard to get a good coffee") is but one of many that seeps as a full-blown scene into the immediate memory despite the minimal manner of its enactment. 

The more I think about it – or bask in the afterglow – the more I appreciate the skills that have brought this work to fruition.

While it is true to say there could be more clarity in communicating who’s who, what’s what and why, it’s the almost intangible nature of the story telling that gives Mui its special quality. Definitely worth going to – especially right now, with China so much in the local news.


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