A rapid return to the Old Red Lion in Islington is always a welcome diversion. A delicious moo pie and pint set me up nicely for Little Potatoes, a tale of matchmaking mums at the Shanghai marraige market, as they aim to get their children hitched. Liuyang (Sarah Curwen) is a teacher and striving to get her daughter Meihua married off. Family Planning Officer Hong (Michelle Wen Lee) has a game-obsessed son who dreams of being an artist. The two women decide to set their children up on a blind date. They excitedly watch as their plan unfolds at a local restaurant.
Underneath the whimsy of matchmaking lurks a disturbing tale of China’s infamous one-child policy. This most brutal example of population planning was introduced in 1979 but only properly eliminated in 2015. Breach of policy resulted in heavy fines, but conversely offered incentives to compliant couples. It provoked a massive abuse of human rights; forced abortions, infanticide and corruption of public officials were commonplace as authorities fought to maintain the regime.
Liuyang initially views Hong with suspicion; a Family Planning Officer, the likes of whom dictated how people should live their life. But soon they discover they are kindred spirits who both fell victim to the one child policy, all in the name of collectivism and the communist ideal. They reveal in graphic detail how the policy affected their lives and robbed them of a longed-for second child; a girl for Hong and a boy for Liuyang to complete their family. Their focus subsequently turns to Meihua’s relationship with flatmate Li Min. A 21st Century solution brings happiness and fulfilment to both women as once again they hold babies in their arms.
Little Potatoes is a well written, self-contained piece that lays bare a deeply unsavoury episode in China’s history. It conjures a frightening spectre of state control where individuals were expected to conform, just like little potatoes in a neat, ordered row. The two strong cast comfortably slip into three roles each and deliver moving, affecting performances. Clare Reddaway has crafted a solid script that draws hope from a deeply depressing subject. That’s no mean feat.
Author: Clare Reddaway
Director: Bryn Holding
Producer: A Word in Your Ear/Clare Reddaway
Booking Until: This play has now ended its run.