There are 49 of them, and they come from 23 countries; the cast of this long-awaited revival of Miss Saigon can act, sing, dance, march, laugh, fight, die and cry as one. Many of them are making their West End debuts, and for the majority, another country is home. Being so far from their loved ones, this warm, close company has become a family - one that loves, teases and, perhaps most importantly, eats together. For this cosmopolitan community, home is where the kitchen is.
For the latest issue of Jamie magazine, which is all about Asia, we have been invited to one of the cast’s feasts. Here, they make London feel smaller, warmer and less foreign by spending Sundays sharing family recipes, together. As the kitchen fills with the smells and rich tang of Asian aromas, as anecdotes are noisily related, as quiet secrets are shared, the distance between continents and cultures shrinks to nothing at all.
What we discover is a family wherein nobody is ‘on’ when offstage; a family that is thoughtful, respectful, yet full of fun. English is the second, third or even fourth language for most of the cast, so conversation is both colourful and tactile. Marsha Songcome, one of the ensemble, is from Thailand but grew up in Sweden on meatballs, lingonberries and her mum’s Thai cooking. Having been brought up in Kalmar, a tiny city on the Baltic coast, Marsha has been amazed by London. “I’ve tried Chinese food for the first time. Pak choi, with garlic and hoisin sauce! I want it every day!”
While many performers have been known to subsist on questionable diets, this company is remarkably food-focused. “Doing eight shows a week, you can eat absolutely anything – just not before a show, as that will make you feel heavy and sleepy,” explains Filipino ensemble member Ariel Reonal. “Food for us is more than fuel. Whether we’re from The Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Japan, America, China or Europe, food is where we come together.”
Post-show, many cast members head to Chinatown. “It’s across the road from the theatre, places are open late and you can pig out on char siew,” adds Ariel. “Non-Asians may be able to drink, but we can handle spice!” Bang on cue, Londoner and ensemble member Callum Francis gets the sweats from a tiny bite of gising gising. “I’m dizzy with chilli!” he exclaims.
Laughter peals from the table. Dishes from home – wherever that might be – have made this bunch very much at home with each other. Food, especially food from their birthplaces, is the glue that holds them together.
Find more beautiful Asian recipes right here on JamieOliver.com.
Words by Kevin Gould; photographs by David Loftus