Walking into the Studio Room at the Blue Room Theatre I was immediately taken with the set design. A white backdrop features a world map with red stickers seemingly in every country.
Small red lanterns hang from the ceiling and to one side of the stage is an open red parasol and another, larger, lantern.
Tabitha Woo stands in the centre of the stage wearing an extravagant looking white lace dress and a glittering crown atop her head.
A Westerner’s Guide to the Opium Wars has a bit of everything: British and Chinese history, Broadway show tunes, singing, a sock puppet, and a surprising amount of German.
Woo takes the audience on a journey through the history of British-Chinese trade relations, how her grandfather came to Australia, and what her experience has been discovering and exploring her heritage.
What begins as a fun and interesting lesson in history becomes a very personal and insightful story of Woo’s family tree.
Through Woo the audience learns what it’s like to try to maintain a connection to a culture and a country as the generational links to heritage begin to fade away.
A Westerner’s Guide to the Opium Wars masterfully balances funny and playful with thoughtful commentary on the West’s persevering habit of romanticising Orientalism.
The mood from the audience was one of thorough enjoyment.
There were laughs at each cheeky joke and nods of agreement from audience members who identified with Woo’s experiences as a first-generation Australian.
Woo ties the elements of international and personal history together with a surprising twist that is deeply moving.
A Westerner’s Guide to the Opium Wars provides a high value production and Woo herself delivers a warm and engaging performance.
Fringe goers who value stories of history, heritage, and family will adore this show.