There’s something very fitting about the fact Gyuri Sarossy is leading the cast of Chinglish, David Henry Hwang’s comedy about cross-cultural communication. That’s because the actor is the son of a Transylvanian-Hungarian father and a Bournemouth-born mother, who met in Italy.
Though Sarossy’s parents clearly overcame any issues with understanding, the characters in the Park Theatre’s new play have far more trouble.
Sarossy told us more about the European premiere of Chinglish, which was previously a hit on Broadway, and how theatre can be a religious experience.
What is Chinglish about?
It’s about an American businessman who tries to get a deal in China. But what it’s really about is communication problems between cultures. There’s lots of lost-in-translation issues. It’s a rather clever sort of existential farce. Lots of people are paddling very quickly in order to present a certain version of themselves, which may or may not be true, to the world.
On the surface it is a farce, but it’s actually a rather deep play about people who are a bit lost and looking for love and success in life. It’s also something of a satire on market capitalism; everyone’s trying to make a buck.
Why did you want to be in Chinglish?
It’s light and it’s quick and there’s also an air of desperation to it that really builds. But it was the part. It’s always the part. Daniel is a really wonderful role. He develops a relationship with a Chinese minister. They both have unhappy marriages. They’re both, like everyone in life, looking for love and understanding while having to put on a front of being business-like and successful.
How would you describe Daniel?
Daniel’s keeping a secret. He was involved in a scandal but he got away with it. So he’s trying to go straight. He’s rather honest, unhappy in his marriage, a bit lost. He’s looking to be a success and find meaning in his life. There’s a wonderful naivety about him. He’s having a midlife crisis. He’s down on his luck and he’s trying to gamble his way to happiness. Often when we’re vulnerable in life things open up. That’s why he falls in love with the Chinese minister.
A lot of the play is in Mandarin. How do you think audiences will cope?
The surtitles are our eighth character. It’s the joke of the play and it works brilliantly well. There are three translators in the play that get it wrong in different ways. It’s actually very empowering for the audience. The audience are privy to the misunderstandings and Daniel isn’t. The joke is on Daniel. At one point he thinks he says, “I love you.” What he actually says is, “Dirty sea mud.”
Are you a fan of Park Theatre?
I’ve been to Park Theatre as an audience member and seen one or two things. It’s a lovely space. It has a lovely atmosphere. It feels like a real company building.
What was your first experience of theatre?
I remember playing Theseus at school. I picked up a polystyrene rock and shifted my grip so it looked really light instead of really heavy. I was always in school plays and really loved it, but I didn’t take it seriously until university when I was in The Crucible. That’s what made me decide to be an actor. I was an 18-year-old playing a 60-year-old. I looked like a cat because I’d drawn all these lines over my face. Classic student drama.
What is so special about theatre?
I think it’s about a communal experience. We live in a very fragmented world and I think theatre demands something of people. Theatre offers an opportunity for a transformative communal experience between human beings, sharing the same space and sharing a moment. Everyone in the theatre knows it’s fake, because it’s people pretending, but everyone enters into this fiction. It’s almost like a religious experience, just as people would sit round a fire and tell stories. That’s what theatre’s about.
I often look around the theatre when I’m in the audience and marvel at all these heads I can see watching the same thing, choosing to sit together. It’s very different to watching a box set on your own, isn’t it? There’s a great solace to be found in gathering together, recognising what we all have in common and experiencing feelings together.
Which is your favourite London theatre?
I love the Young Vic. I prefer a sense of the audience gathered around you. I like any theatre where an audience feels like it’s part of the action. The Park is a thrust stage, so I really like that.
If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring actor, what would it be?
Trust your instincts. Absolutely.
What can audiences expect from a night at Chinglish?
To be really entertained but also really moved. I think it relates to how people work in life. People are performing roles all the time, but everyone needs love and everyone has to have their needs recognised. That’s what it’s really about. And connecting across cultures… And it’s very funny.