For most of the nineteenth century and for the first half of the twentieth, Limehouse was home to London’s Chinatown. The Last Days of Limehouse stages its demise: centering on the London County Council’s slum clearance policy in the 50s and its impact upon London’s Chinese diaspora.
Jeremy Tiang’s script focuses on the tension between the desperate need of the Limehouse inhabitants and the loss incurred by re-housing them. Sometimes it all feels a bit noises off – the production would have benefited from a little more showing and a little less telling. The various subplots (pregnancy, post-traumatic stress syndrome etc.) are tangential, and do little to convey a sense either of the privations or of the pleasures.
The main difficulty with this production, however, is far more mundane and concerns the decision to stage it as a promenade piece. As everything takes place in a single hall, and as the sets are minimal, there was simply no justification for making the audience stand for a hundred minutes, especially under stage lights and at the height of summer. It all felt very hot, exhausting and unnecessary.
This complaint aside, The Last Days of Limehouse remains an entertaining and thought-provoking piece. Amanda Maud gives an assured performance as Eileen, and Jonathan Chan adeptly balances comedy with despair as Stanley. Undoubtedly this is a worthwhile exercise in consciousness-raising, not least because questions concerning the impact of re-housing and cultural assimilation remain relevant today.