top of page

Interview with Kumiko Mendl, Artistic Director of New Earth Theatre

Have you always worked in the arts sector?

I’ve been lucky in that for the most part of my career I have been working in the arts.

I initially trained as a teacher but quickly realised I wasn’t cut out to work in the

school system but throughout my career I have found ways to bring my love of

theatre and drama and working with children and young people together. These days

I do less but my passion for engagement and young people has never gone away.

How long have you been with the New Earth Theatre, and what inspired you to join?

I am in fact one of the founder members of the company. There were five of us; all

actors of East and South East Asian heritage who came together in 1995 to form

what was then known as Yellow Earth Theatre. We were frustrated by the lack of

opportunities facing us in the industry and we bonded over a shared interest in

exploring own cultural heritage. We were keen to experiment and search for a hybrid

form that could embrace both Western and Eastern forms of storytelling, so we set

out to create work for ourselves and others like ourselves.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I’m not sure there is a typical day – it really depends what is happening for the

company at the time. But safe to say there is a lot of emails, zooms, face to face

meetings, events to attend, artists to meet, rehearsals and productions to attend. At

the moment we are still working a lot from home and having just contracted covid for

the first time I have been forced indoors again!

We see that the Theatre company does a lot of community-based projects.

Would you mind telling us a little bit more about this?

It’s always been important to us as a company that we are inclusive and work where

we can with the many East and South East Asian communities in the UK.

For example our office is in Deptford SE London which also happens to be the

borough with the largest London Vietnamese community so we have over the years

worked with Vietnamese artists and performers to bring their stories to the streets of

Deptford and most recently through an audio dining experience written by local

Vietnamese artist Anna Ngyuen. Earlier this year we finished a two year multi

phased project;Tsunagu/Connect that saw us interviewing 30 Japanese women

about their experiences of settling in the UK since 1945 and developing an exhibition

and performance from the stories we heard. During the pandemic we produced short

digital pieces by Filipino artists for Filipino NHS front line healthcare workers,

designed to be watched when their food cooked by the community was delivered to


Production for The Apology is running at the theatre; what made you choose

this particular story/play? How much were you involved in this project?

The Apology is a play written by S Korean playwright Kyo Choi. Kyo applied to our

Professional Writers Programme; a two year programme offering four writers an

opportunity to develop a full length script with us. Alongside a previously written play,

Kyo sent in an initial scene for an idea she had to write about the story of the so

called ‘comfort women’ of World War Two. It was clear from her writing and the

sample scene she sent that we had a writer clearly unafraid to explore difficult

subjects and as comfortable writing on geopolitics as she is writing a tender and

moving father and daughter scene. We knew we wanted to work with her on this


Why do you think it is so important to tell this story? 

The Apology reveals the shocking story of the ‘comfort women’ of World War Two.

An estimated 200,000 women in the East Asian region who were tricked, kidnapped

or coerced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army, and the subsequent

political cover-up. Three women seek to uncover the past and speak truth to power.

Their quest amplifies the hushed-up reality of sexual violence, as #MeToo did, and

other urgent issues that envelop us in the present day: governments covering up

atrocities, women's bodily autonomy, revisionism, misogyny and the legacy of

colonialism. In the writer’s words, ‘The Apology is a universal story of defiance by

those who would otherwise be forgotten, marginalised or silenced for a larger


This female-led production joins a body of work conceived and produced by New

Earth that has strong lead roles for female BESEA artists. Together, these

productions counteract the history of stereotyped and severely limited ESEA female

roles on offer in British theatre.

Have you ever been to Korea or any other Southeast Asian country? Favourite food?

I have never been to Korea and it is certainly somewhere I would love to visit. I am

dual heritage Japanese and have travelled and lived in a number of EA and SEA

countries but there are still many places I haven’t been to and would dearly love to visit.

It's fantastic that you have such a diverse team; how do you promote this externally?

It’s really important for us that we are a company that can reflect our values placing

BESEA artists and communities at the heart of everything we do and creating a

space where people feel safe, understood and accepted. Due to the nature of

theatre we work with a lot of freelancers and it’s important for us that they feel well

supported by us in all manner of ways. Freelancers in particular have had the

roughest of times during the pandemic often with little recourse to work and financial

support. The picture is complex but it’s clear that more needs to be done to retain the

workforce to ensure there is a diverse and skilled pool of people to work with.

What does the New Earth Theatre have lined up in the coming months?

We have a new production; Worth by Joanne Lau that will open in London in April

and tour across the UK until June 2023. Also developed through our Professional

Writers Programme this we believe will be the first main stage show to feature a

British Chinese family! It’s a darkly comic family drama and asks the question what

are you really worth?

We are also working with disabled artist Chris Shapiro who will be presenting a

digital ‘game’ as part of the International DaDaFest, taking players into their unique

world where everything burns just that bit brighter and bites just that bit harder.

We will also be presenting a one off event with exiled Filipino writer Rogelio Braga at

the Royal Court examining the

Anything you would like to mention to our readers?

We also run the New Earth Theatre Academy; an annual free intensive summer

training and skills development programme. The Academy offers a range of courses

for actors, writers, producers and anyone interested working off stage in creative,

technical or stage management roles. Each course offers a programme of classes

and masterclasses industry talks, theatre trips, networking ending with a showcase

for invited audiences and industry with future mentoring opportunities.

It's totally free, open to anyone of East or South East Asian heritage living and

working in the UK, aged 18+ (no upper age limit). Currently we run academies in

London, Greater Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds. Applications to apply open in

March and you can find more information


Thanks to Kumiko Mendl for this interview with KBCE.

The Apology was on at New Earth Theatre until Saturday 8th , October 2022.

[Photo credit: Ikin Yum @ikinyum]


Our Other Posts


bottom of page