This mischievous comedy was performed in The Shed at the National Theatre last month featuring Gemma Chan in its ensemble cast. Written by Chinese-American playwright David Henry Hwang, it starts with his key role in the US Actors Equity Association protests against the casting of Jonathan Pryce as the Eurasian engineer in the Broadway version of Miss Saigon.
Many Asian-Americans and others regarded this as an example of “yellow face” casting – a caucasian actor applying make-up to portray a character of Asian descent.
Its a ‘mockumentary’ about an Asian-American playwright who, after protesting the casting of Price, accidentally casts a white actor as the Asian lead in his own play Face Value believing him to be of mixed race. He discovers that he is 100% white and tries to cover up to protect his reputation as an Asian-American role model.
It is notable that the National Theatre’s Artistic Director, Nicholas Hytner was the director of Miss Saigon. He amusingly programmed Yellow Face to run in the exact month Saigon returned to the West End. Oxford educated Gemma hailed her breakthrough in “colour-blind casting” when she won her first classical role in theatre, playing the war goddess Athena in Our Ajax at the Southwark Playhouse in 2013. The Sherlock and Jack Ryan actress still believes that actors of East Asian descent still don’t get opportunities white actors do. “I have to fight hard to get parts that don’t have something to do with China,” she said in a recent interview.