Restaurant of great drama

Top Restaurant chronicles the ups and downs of a Peking duck restaurant called Fu Ju De in the early 1900s.
Top Restaurant chronicles the ups and downs of a Peking duck restaurant called Fu Ju De in the early 1900s.PHOTO: ESPLANADE

REVIEW / THEATRE

TOP RESTAURANT

Beijing People's Art Theatre

Esplanade Theatre/Thursday

In cooking, the ingredients, method of preparation and seasoning come together to create a sumptuous dish, one that smells, looks and tastes incredible. Chefs know the more you practise, the better you get.

  • BOOK IT /TOP RESTAURANT

  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Today, 8pm; tomorrow2.30pm

    ADMISSION: $38to $128 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

In theatre, the same holds true. The script, the actors, how fast a line is recited, how a scene is set - every detail goes towards creating an unforgettable experience.

So viewers of this Mandarin play, which premiered in 1988 and saw its 510th performance on Thursday, know they are getting a work of art, honed from years of toil, experimentation and refinement.

First performed in Singapore in 1994 at the Kallang Theatre, this is its second run here. It chronicles the ups and downs of a Peking duck restaurant called Fu Ju De in the early 1900s.

As its ageing boss retires, the restaurant is left to his two sons, but neither is interested in running it.

An outsider called Lu Mengshi (played by actor Liu Hui) is employed to keep the business running. But as he turns its fortunes around, tensions arise when the two sons start fighting with him over its takings and management.

Against this power struggle, smaller skirmishes and misunderstandings play out among staff members - such as its hardworking lead waiter, rebellious head chef and gentle assistant manager.

More than just a regular "work-drama", the show makes an effort to develop the characters' history and personal lives. Their entertaining anecdotes and witty repartee pepper the story.

Creditors, gourmands, regulars and strangers who come in and out of the restaurant add more flavour.

The political backdrop - with the lingering influence of dynasty rule and the struggling establishment of the Chinese Republic era - is also not ignored.

At times, the production was let down by the English and Chinese surtitles, which are sometimes early, sometimes late, and at one point missing.

But this did not do much to mar the overall well-crafted and nuanced production, a recipe of great drama executed with finesse and meticulous detail, like a well-prepared roast duck dish - its skin crispy, its flesh tender, light, flavourful, but not fatty.

Just remember to have a full meal before entering the theatre. All that talk about food is bound to make one hungry.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2017, with the headline 'Restaurant of great drama'. Print Edition | Subscribe