Short Film Review: The Orphan of Zhao Redux

“What can ordinary people do?”

Based on The Great Revenge of the Orphan of Zhao by Ji Junxiang and mixing in texts from numerous other writers, Daniel York’s The Orphan of Zhao Redux is a most enchanting thing indeed. The play is perhaps sadly most notorious, in recent years at least, for being at the centre of a controversy when the RSC cast just three East Asian actors in minor roles (out of seventeen in total) in what has been known as the Chinese Hamlet, such is the piece’s significance. But York fully wrests ownership away from such unsavouriness to produce a gorgeous eight minute short that is a brilliant showcase for what might have been.

The film features fourteen leading lights of the British East Asian acting scene, the narrative scattered between them all and the text reshaped into something of a poem as just as much feeling as storytelling emerges through the individual lines. Ikin Yum’s stunning monochrome cinematography has been astutely edited by Andrew Koji and the beautifully evocative music underscores the whole affair with just the right level of intrigue and emotion. Not knowing the play didn’t matter a jot, the film stirs something elemental – especially in its haunting final minute – and had me thoroughly hooked from the start. Continue reading “Short Film Review: The Orphan of Zhao Redux”

Review: The World of Extreme Happiness, The Shed

“A boy is a child, a girl is a thing”

Given that around about this time last year, the RSC was copping a lot of flak for casting just three East Asian actors in a production of The Orphan of Zhao, it feels something of a shame that more of a noise isn’t being made about the greater opportunities that this year has seen, in the capital at least. Currently in London, you can see Chimerica and The Fu-Manchu Complex, a second David Henry Hwang production – Golden Child – has just closed after Yellow Face earlier this year and the Hampstead had the evocative #aiww. Along with Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s The World of Extreme Happiness now at the National Theatre’s Shed, could this be a sign of the changing tide, of greater visibility in our cultural lives as theatres’ reluctance to programme Eastern influences ebbs away? Who knows, I am far from qualified to tell, but it has made for a fascinating enrichening of my theatregoing this year (and by extension, my short-film viewing).

Cowhig’s play feels like a good companion piece to Lucy Kirkwood’s writing, turning the gaze firmly onto contemporary Chinese society and how it deals with being the fuel for the motor of exceptional economic growth. Its protagonist is Katie Leung’s Sunny, dumped in a bucket of pigswill at birth for not being a boy but surviving and once grown to a young adult, she joins the exodus from the countryside in pursuit of the urban dream. But once she arrives, it is emerges as more of a nightmare and Cowhig pulls no punches as she reveals the seedy underside to this version of capitalism – the sheer exploitation of the rural migrants, the appalling working conditions, the high rate of suicide, the indoctrination of the mantra of self-help that keeps an endless flow of willing bodies knocking at the door. Continue reading “Review: The World of Extreme Happiness, The Shed”

Review: #aiww The Arrest of Ai Weiwei, Hampstead Theatre

“The art is in what happened to those people’s spirits”

The trick behind James Macdonald’s production of Howard Brenton’s new play #aiww The Arrest of Ai Weiwei is to suggest that the 2011 detention and interrogation of the artist by the Chinese authorities was as big and far-reaching a piece of conceptual art as any of his installations at the Tate Modern. Ashley Martin Davies’ design sets the drama in a gleaming white gallery with spectators lining up either side of a wooden crate, whose walls are opened up to portray the two different cells in which he was kept during the 81 days of his imprisonment. The observers, or netizens, remain onstage throughout as Ai is trapped inside the nightmarish absurdities of such an authoritarian regime.

Based on Barnaby Martin’s book Hanging Man which documented Ai’s ordeal using his own testimony, Brenton’s play eschews conventional dramatic structure – it is no secret that the artist is eventually released – for something more ruminative about the nature of incarceration. And in its focus on the detail of the situation, it is ultimately rather insightful into the labyrinthine complexities of living and working under an unbending state whose orthodoxy is struggling to deal with a dissident whose worldwide fame precludes any unexplained disappearance into the murky depths of the system. Continue reading “Review: #aiww The Arrest of Ai Weiwei, Hampstead Theatre”

TV Preview: Sinbad

“Are you running to, or from, something?”

I’ve never been to the cinema to watch a TV programme before but there’s always a first time for everything and last Sunday we found ourselves in the midst of hordes of children during a family film funday to preview the new Sky 1 series Sinbad. The most expensive show Sky have ever commissioned in the UK, it was filmed over 9 months in Malta and marks a determined attempt to capture the family-friendly Dr Who/Merlin market from Impossible Pictures, who also produced Primeval.

As you may have deduced from the pictures, my motives were not entirely artistic, as the show also marks the return of one of my favourite actors, Elliot Cowan, to the screen (plus introduces another nice-looking gentleman called Elliot into the bargain). And as I don’t have Sky and will have to wait for the DVDs to come out at the end of the 12 episode run, this seemed like too good an opportunity to miss to catch the first episode and attend the subsequent Q&A session. Continue reading “TV Preview: Sinbad”

Review: London Assurance, National Theatre

“I didn’t imagine I’d ever find the countryside so amusing”

Dion Boucicault’s 1844 play, London Assurance, the latest National Theatre production is a rip-roaring, farcical romp of a show that should leave even the most depressed Phantom of the Opera fan with a smile on their face. With a quality all-star ensemble: Simon Russell Beale, Fiona Shaw, Richard Briers, Michelle Terry, Paul Ready, all hamming it up for all they are worth, I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Sir Harcourt Courtly, a London socialite travels up to Gloucestershire, determined to procure himself a much younger wife-to-be, heiress Grace Harkaway, yet once there his head is turned by her cousin, Lady Gay Spanker, a forthright horse-riding fox-hunting Amazon of a woman. To further complicate matters, Sir Harcourt’s son Charles is also there, in disguise hiding from his creditors, and has fallen for Grace. Sensing the opportunity for merriment, Charles’ friend Richard Dazzle then colludes with Lady Gay to toy with the bumptious Sir Harcourt and lead him astray. Continue reading “Review: London Assurance, National Theatre”