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Yafei Zheng - Is There Work On Mars Peckham Fringe Interview

Can an Asian with ADHD and dyscalculia pass Elon Musk’s Mars Immigration Test? Set in a dystopian future of space colonisation, ’Is There Work on Mars?’ rants about many things: being an Asian who is innately horrible at maths, ableist education systems, living in the diaspora and ridiculous immigration requirements. Feeling like an outcast everywhere she goes, the neurodiverse Chinese woman desperately finds herself at SpaceX’s absurd testing lab in an attempt to move to Mars. 

We chat with writer and performer Yafei Zheng as part of our Peckham Fringe interview series.

What can you tell me about your show?
‘Is There Work on Mars?’ is a solo performance set in a dystopian future of space colonisation. An Asian woman with ADHD and a math learning disability attempts to pass Elon Musk's Mars Immigration Test in SpaceX. The show rants about many things: being an Asian who is innately horrible at maths, ableist education systems, living in the diaspora and ridiculous immigration requirements. In a desperate attempt to move to Mars, the neurodiverse Chinese woman finds herself in SpaceX’s absurd testing lab in which she would find bleep tests, revisiting of childhood traumas, cheerleading, striptease, beer pong and some David Bowie. 

Where did the inspiration for the show come from?
The inspiration for “Is There Work on Mars?” comes mostly from my experience of being a late diagnosed neurodiverse woman who grew up in an extremely competitive, test-focused education environment in Beijing. After discovering my ADHD and dyscalculia (math learning disability) in my early 20s, I found a huge sense of relief in the immense self-guilt and shame I’ve accumulated  growing up. To understand myself better, I read multiple books on neurodiversity, particularly women’s experiences of being undiagnosed due to medical misconceptions (I recommend the book UNMASKED by Ellie Middleton). I realised that I was not alone, and that many unique experiences of neurodiversity amongst marginalised groups are still underrepresented. Therefore, I felt inspired to  share my story to diversify the discussion on neurodiversity.

The setting of the show, an ‘AI’ monitored testing lab, is inspired by both East Asia’s high pressure  education systems and imaginations of what the future of Mars immigration might look like. I’ve  always been interested in dystopian sci-fi narratives and it’s interesting to satirise the genre using my experience of dealing with immigration officers. 

How have you approached bringing your show to life?
Because I’m very inspired by sound, I invited friends who do music producing to collaborate with since the very beginning of the concept. The development of the story happened concurrently with imagining the soundscape of the show. This is my first time doing a solo show, and the process has been both individual and social. I developed most of the writing myself while commuting on London tubes. Then, I would invite my friends to rehearsals to be involved as co-directors and dramaturgs to provide valuable feedback and to brainstorm together of how the story could end. This approach of collaboration has worked very well for me.

If you were a biscuit, what would you be and why?
I don’t know much about English biscuits, but I think I’d be a cookie with too many mixings? I’d have chocolate chips, raisins, ginger, coconut flakes, nuts, rum… I have too many interests and I’m always putting too much on my plate. It definitely wouldn’t be too sweet though I don’t like sweet desserts. 

What keeps you inspired?
Seeing fringe-scale shows around London has been an extremely inspiring journey for me since moving here one and half years ago. Although I was very privileged to have accessed many theatre shows in Beijing and LA, most of them were grand, big-budget productions. Compared to bigger productions, I always leave fringe shows with more ideas because they often tackle contemporary issues with so much creativity. I’m also very fortunate to be surrounded by many brilliant creative friends. Creating is a really difficult process filled with self-doubts so it’s truly a blessing to be surrounded by encouraging and supportive friends.

What do you hope an audience takes away from Peckham Fringe?
I hope the audience can witness diverse stories and gain different social and cultural perspectives. Geographic location is very important for theatres and it’s great to have representation of new-writing shows based in in South London. I also hope the audience will feel inspired to create because that’s what happened to me after seeing shows from Peckham Fringe last year. 

Is There Work On Mars? plays at Peckham Fringe on Friday 24th and Saturday 25th May. Tickets are available from

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