Interview: Daniel York Loh, "The whole world’s daunting"

Photo: Ivan Weiss. 

 by Jim Keaveney

Opening for previews next week, Joel Tan's new play No Particular Order charts the fall, rise and continuation of a single society through the lives of ornithologists, bureaucrats, soldiers and tour guides, asking the same repeated question “Is it empathy, or power, that endures?”

The production, which plays at Theatre503, features actor Daniel York Loh, who was recently seen opposite Mark Rylance in Dr Semmelweis at Bristol Old Vic. We spoke with Loh during rehearsals to talk about Tan's play, digital theatre and telling essential stories.

The Understudy Q&A with Daniel York Loh

Hi Daniel, thanks for taking time out to speak with us. What can you tell us about No Particular Order and your role?

No Particular Order is an epic lament of a play about power, violence, resistance and humanity that takes place over a 330 year time-period which could be history, science fiction, the present we’re living in now  - or all three at once. There are four actors in it (the other are Jules Chan, Pandora Colin and Pia Laborde-Noguez) and we all play a huge range of brilliantly drawn characters in scenes that are separate yet make up one colossal story: victims, perpetrators, soldiers, bureaucrats, refugees, artists, workers, fashionistas, botanists, you name it.

What was it that attracted you to the production?

Joel Tan’s writing lands on just where we’re at as a species right now and he does that with huge poeticism and precision. Joshua Roche is an enormously talented young director. You’re going to hear a lot more from both of them in the coming years (if theatre/the country/ the world doesn’t just collapse as it all really threatens to do at the moment). Plus No Particular Order is on at a venue which really is one of the hotbeds of new writing, Theatre 503. 

I’m a writer myself (my play, Beat Poetry, written for ALRA South students, is on at Omnibus June 8th-10th if you want a companion piece) and I really think these are the urgent themes of our time – authoritarianism, how we resist, how we build and protect a democracy, how we live together, how we find and preserve our empathy and humanity. 

How do think audiences will react to the play?

People react to theatre in all kinds of individual ways. You can only hope that what you’re doing speaks to each audience member in a way that resonates with them, now, in the times we’re living in. And I’m sure No Particular Order will do that. 

Promotional Image for No Particular Order. Credit: Eivind Hansen

The production will also be live-streamed, the date is to be announced. Do you think the livestream performance will have a different dynamic and is it a daunting prospect?

The whole world’s daunting – pandemic, cost of living crisis, deprivation, violence - how daunting is it to be someone fleeing a war-zone or extreme poverty and to escape to… a supposedly more ‘civilised’ world that wants to refuse you entry and pack you off somewhere equally as terrifying? So, no, it’s not daunting to perform in a brilliant play with brilliant people and the more audience that want to watch it, and the more access that audience has to watch it, the better in all honesty. It’s not daunting for me to perform in a brilliant play. It’s a privilege. 

We all saw during lockdown just how fragile and ephemeral live performance is. Or rather, we didn’t see and that’s the problem. I know there’s something absolutely special about the way theatre exists in a particular space and a particular time with that unique combination of people and factors in the space. But this is a way of honouring that while at the same time sharing and preserving it. And that’s the different dynamic – knowing it can be there and it can exist for someone at the other end of the country who is unable to come to London. At the other end of the world even.

Plus, I also passionately believe in digital theatre. I’m a founder member of Moongate Productions and Associate Artistic Director at Chinese Arts Now who both took huge risks in digital innovation during lockdown – the former with the acclaimed WeRNotVirus collection (see: https://youtu.be/sUlI-XKPXXA https://youtu.be/XE3Rdz0tRls ) and the latter with the award-winning every dollar is a soldier/with money you’re a dragon in collaboration with Two Temple Place https://youtu.be/J_mUGI_Zf88 

Ellandar Productions champion work by and about British East and Southeast Asians (BESEA) and British Muslims. How important is that aspect of the production to you?

British East/Southeast Asians and British Muslims have huge, urgent, vital, compelling and (yes) entertaining stories to tell. This is no representation beg. This is essential theatre. 

Also of primary importance is that Ellandar is made up of two incredible artists – Mingyu Lin and Iskandar Ramzi bin Sharazuddin – who also produce. And this is a powerful alternative to what’s become the accepted gatekeeper structure as well as the tokenism that bedevils Asians in the arts. 

You recently worked with Mark Rylance on Dr Semmelweis - how was that experience?

Dr. Semmelweis was a colossal show. We all know Mark’s an extraordinary actor. And I’m not sure we’ll see his like again. It’s not the same industry any more so enjoy him while you can.  He developed and honed his craft on stage and it’s the stage he always wants to return to, where he creates a gloriously wild and free performance environment. Every single scene and every single performance with him is like the most intoxicating of magical mystery rides.  As well as Mark though, the whole stage was packed with incredible people – incredible musicians, incredible dancers, incredible actors. I’ve no idea what’s happening but I really hope we do Dr. Semmelweis again and I really hope that every single one of the people involved comes back with it. 

Finally, how would you describe No Particular Order to someone considering buying a ticket for the show?

Epic and intimate, poetic and powerful, sad but hopeful. And about us – there, here, then, now, soon and later.

No Particular Order is at Theatre503 from 31 May until 18 June. The show will also be streamed - date to be announced.

Jim Keaveney is the lead critic at The Understudy. He tweets occasionally from @understudyjim

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