True story retold on stage at Derby

Mountains – The Dreams of Lily Kwok is the first major mid-scale tour of a British East Asian play, and it can be seen at Derby Theatre this month.

The stylish and evocative new play by award-winning writer In-Sook Chappell tells the extraordinary story of the three generations of women behind famous Manchester restaurant Sweet Mandarin. 

It is based on Helen Tse’s best-selling family memoir, of passion, sacrifice and survival across three generations held together with one lifeline – food.

Helen has grown up in the UK, but always felt a piece of her story was missing. 

When she visits her mother’s birthplace in Hong Kong for the first time, she’s determined to find out who she really is and where she belongs. 

Amid the skyscrapers and bustling streets, she meets her grandmother, Lily Kwok, and steps into her past, discovering shocking family secrets that will change her life forever.

In-Sook was born in South Korea and raised in England.

She says she believes her personal background rather than her work as a playwright prepared her for writing this particular play.

“I was born in Korea and came to the UK as a baby and was brought up as English. 

“Because of this I am interested in how immigrants often erase a part of themselves to fit in,” she says. 

“I identified very strongly with a central character who goes back to Hong Kong in search of her identity and history and through learning who she is radically changes her life and finds her place in the world. I loved the idea of this striving for success and exploring the cost of that success.”

The play is directed by Jennifer Tang who says that she was attracted to the play first and foremost because it struck her as an important story to tell – a story about women, told by women. 

“It’s an epic narrative that sweeps across generations and includes struggle, love, death, family, ambition, war…it has everything. 

“And, of course, it’s a true story, which makes it even more compelling. 

“I think In-Sook’s adaptation is brilliant in the way it uses really playful and inventive means of storytelling. 

“It isn’t a simple memory play, it’s inherently theatrical, with lots of room for playfulness and creativity. I loved how immersive the script felt, and how it plunged me into a world that felt both beautiful and dangerous at the same time. I also felt it would be quite a challenge to stage, and I am always up for a challenge!”

The play will involve live cooking on stage and can be seen from May 10-12 at 7.30pm with a matinée at 2.30pm on the Saturday. 

For tickets go to