"Tart’s Tale Makes Disappointing Recipe"
by Malcolm Eadie for remotegoat on 12/05/16

Director Ross Ericson has adapted Luo Guan Zhong’s novel about a courtesan in the latter part of the Han Dynasty into a script that is full of anachronistic dialogue. Contemporary speech such as “I had you down as….” and even, “You cheeky bitch” sits side by side with quasi classicisms such as, “I go not to battle.” This uneasy alliance of language might have been forgivable had it been in the service of a gripping story well acted, but this was neither.

The drama, with its tale of a courtesan who rises to be the most powerful woman in the kingdom, the power behind the throne, should and could have been exciting, but there is little room in this adaptation for Michelle Yim, who looks enticing enough as DiaoChan, to display much subtlety of motivation. Neither is Arthur Lee as brutal soldier of fortune LuBu able to engender any sympathy as he displays his fatal flaw, the love he feels for DiaoChan.

There is good use of Chinese screens being maneuvered about the stage to make the simplest of scene changes, but the play failed to live up to its billing of “The Chinese Macbeth” and at times, even verged on the farcical. There was probably no avoiding Andrew Wong as the minister WangYun needing to wear an orthopaedic boot under his courtly robes, but surely the provision of a rustic walking stick would have stopped him having to wield an NHS crutch. Looking remarkably like the young Ken Livingstone with a tea-cosy on his head, and speaking with a northern accent, it was all the more incongruous when someone asked if he was from the north and he retorted that he had never even been there. Add to all this an assortment of other oriental actors whose professional pedigree does not appear to match their abilities and you have the recipe for a disappointing evening.

In his first professional stage engagement, Benjamin Lok showed promise as the soldier sentenced to death for being found drunk on duty, but mostly, the cast was simply not skilled enough to be able to make anything out of the plodding script.

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