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Play about Jamaican and Chinese cultures opens on Friday

TEAMING UP: Lorna Wells, left, wrote the script for the play while Eudora Yutong Qiao, right, wrote the music

PLAYWRIGHT LORNA Wells was born in London to Jamaican parents. As a first generation child to immigrants, Wells shares with The Voice the challenges of growing-up in a Jamaican household and living in a British society.

It Tastes Like Home is a romantic comedy musical set in London, which explores a love story between first generation Jamaican, Camilla and Yi, of Chinese heritage. As their tentative relationship develops, can they strike-up a romance while trying to balance their differing worlds of family, culture and values?

Q: How did you get into writing?

A: I have always written stuff from as long as I can remember, as well as telling stories. I was a singer-songwriter before I became an actual writer. I always told stories to my younger brothers, and I’ve written stories as I’ve grown up. I also had a musical theatre business for small children, so I would make things up with them, and help them put on a show. I’ve just kind of always done it. It is part of who I am.

Q: What was the inspiration behind the play?

PREPPING: Rehearsals for It Tastes Like Home

A: It’s not completely autobiographical, but there are bits of me in it, and bits of what it’s like to grow-up in a different culture, because I was fascinated with what I see as a double life. Inside the house you live one life. My parents were Jamaican so we had everything Jamaican, the language, rules, morals, everything – you go outside and you become English and part of that culture, too – and I was always interested in how that affects you growing-up. It’s strange – you don’t think about it all the time but it is a part of who you are, so that was my inspiration from the beginning. The fact that it’s called It Tastes Like Home is because I felt like food was the most unifying thing, you knew where you were because your food was your culture. That’s what kept it alive and so that is why I named the play It Tastes Like Home.

Q: Where did the Chinese influence come from?

A: I did a masters course at Goldsmith’s in musical theatre writing, and on the very first day we had to get into groups of two and write a song taken from random postcards. The person I was working with, she was from China, she then asked me to write her a musical and said she wanted it to be based in a Chinese restaurant and wanted it to be about two cultures. That made it seem obvious to me that we should base it on Chinese and Jamaican culture. I could use her as well as all my research to steer me in the right direction.

Q: What message are you trying to get across?

LINING-UP: Actors playing the Chen family look at their scripts

A: There are lots of layers to this play. I think you can come and watch it and pick out lots of different messages. One of the things I wanted to say was, there is more that unites us than divides us. We have these two cultures and on the face of it they both think they are very different, but actually, when you’re in a country where you are the minority and our home is somewhere else, we are all the same. It doesn’t matter where you come from, if you are Asian, Chinese or black, it doesn’t matter. We are all the same. It is also about what it’s like for the parents to come here and struggle and work hard. It details some of the difficulties they had to face and then having to watch their kids have those same struggles. Perhaps they thought it would be easier, but it turns out to be virtually the same, except the children are supposedly British. I wrote about those two different things, about the cultural similarities, but also what it is like to be an immigrant and first generation child of immigrants, and what that means as well. It isn’t just one message, but I guess it depends on what you come and see. Some people come and see a comedy and they don’t see the deeper messages. I guess that must be because it doesn’t apply to them. Basically, I wanted to say that this is the life of immigrants and children of immigrants – this is the reality, the genuine life of that. It may be bad and indifferent at times, but this is our life.

It Tastes Like Home’ is showing at the Clapham Fringe Festival from October 13-15.

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