Meet Chris Fung, Writer and Performer Of EdFringe’s ‘The Society for New Cuisine’

the society for new cuisine
Image credit: Lucy Hayes

The Society for New Cuisine follows a man in search of purpose and meaning after he goes through a cataclysmic awakening. Along the way, he confronts societal taboos, and goes to increasingly dark extremes. It is a dark, satirical fable of a Buddhist allegory, and is inspired by the large amount of workers across the UK, USA and China who quit well-paid jobs during the pandemic.

The Indiependent spoke to writer and performer Chris Fung ahead of his Fringe debut.

The Indiependent: What is the premise of The Society for New Cuisine?

Chris Fung: The Society for New Cuisine is a one-person play, where, guided by a friendly organisation, a rational man processes his existential crisis by eating things. This is an extended Buddhist allegory based on the teachings of Lama Thubten Yeshe, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche and Venerable Robina Courtin.

Your show is inspired by the many workers across the UK, USA and China who left their jobs during COVID to live in rural areas. How did lockdown impact your writing process?

We talk about Zeitgeist, the ghost of the times, this sense that there is a collective spirit reflected by common experience that thrums all through the world. Sometimes those feelings culminate in a collective need, for anger and expression as in Rocky, or for the romantic and youthful magic of Harry Potter, and suddenly the world comes together and says “Yes, this is something I too feel”.

Isn’t it fascinating that right now, there are millions around the world, with deep distrust in our conventionally held structures? Right now, we have national and international strikes across all industry: the arts, the NHS, teachers, postal workers, transport, lawyers. Here in the UK, rates of voter attendance are at an all-time low. We have lost our faith in Government. We have lost our faith in each other.

So what are people doing about it? They are leaving their jobs in droves. Tangping in China has millions leaving six-figure jobs to go live simplistic rural existences. People are taking risks, and hungrily looking for meaning beyond the broken systems around us. We are no longer content to just sit and watch. People are acting.

How are you feeling about this year’s Fringe?
We’re pretty excited. This Fringe is the culmination of 2 years of development. We haven’t had the best of fortune with funding, and have really worked hard to find ways to continue. We’ve had dramaturgy from some world class creatives: Jamie Lloyd, Martin Crimp, Rupert Hands, Sophie Drake, The Royal Court, and through a lot of kindness, we have managed to replace many of our funding needs with (lots of/too much) hard work and sacrifice. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t do this again. Not without a lot more help.

This is my first time writing and leading a solo theatre show. We are a new company; everybody except our lighting designer is a Fringe virgin. Still, we have this conceit, that we have worked uncommonly hard, and have something special to say in a special way, and that there will be people stoked to find us. We are proud to be here, and looking forward to meeting the Fringe community.

Who inspires you?
Thich Quang Duc, one of Vietnam’s most highly revered Buddhist leaders in the 1960s, who came to the extraordinary decision that the oppression of his people by a minority Catholic government [and] could no longer be stymied or thwarted by conventional means. Vietnam was estimated at the time to be between 70-90% Buddhist, and a minority Catholic government led by Ngo Dinh Diem, propagated a culture where Buddhist villagers were oppressed, abused, killed. 

So in one of the most highly popularized photos within modern history, he asked a journalist friend, Malcolm Brown to meet him at a busy Saigon crosswalk. Thich Quang Duc then set himself on fire and burned to death, without moving, without crying out. His hope was that this protest would achieve what other careful attempts could not: attention and compassion for the community under his care.

Before burning, he left a letter: “Before closing my eyes and moving towards the vision of the Buddha, I respectfully plead to President Ngô Đình Diệm to take a mind of compassion towards the people of the nation and implement religious equality to maintain the strength of the homeland eternally. I call the venerables, reverends, members of the sangha and the lay Buddhists to organize in solidarity to make sacrifices to protect Buddhism.”

Compassion and Willpower.

What’s next for you after the Fringe?
I will rest, and then I will read, and I will watch things, and I will wander.

The Society for New Cuisine will be performed in Underbelly, Cowgate – Iron Belly from 11-27 August (not 14) at 6:40pm as part of Edinburgh Fringe.

Words by Ellen Leslie

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