Thursday, 3 January 2013

The Orphan of Zhao: Review

The Orphan of Zhao is often named to be the 'Chinese Hamlet' with its predominant theme being revenge along with the inclusion of ghosts, an evil step father and a conflicted hero. The story follows the life of the orphan of Zhao clan. The play starts with the massacre of the Zhao clan by the sino-Claudius character Tu'an Gu. Shortly after the massacre Zhao's wife gives birth to her son and tries to hide him with a local doctor so that he can grow up and one day avenge his fathers death. Tu'an Gu orders the death of Zhao's baby and believes that he is indeed killed, even though he is actually safe due to a baby swap. This is only Act 1. Act 2 deals with the life of the orphan of Zhao once has reached the age of 18, the age in which he must avenge his fathers death. This final act deals with revenge, cruelty, corruption but also goodness.

The play has been billed as one of "the great classics you've never seen"; the main theme of the RSC's autumn season. It is indeed a great Chinese classic but from the offset the RSC's production of it was covered in controversy, not a great start for the new artistic director Gregory Doran. This great Chinese classic play only included 3 East Asian actors in a 17 strong cast and it was this lack of authenticity that caused controversy and raised questions about the new production. Although there was a lack of actors of East Asian origin and the fact that all 3 played minor roles their performances were outstanding, as were the rest of the cast. All of the cast deserved a standing ovation which overshadows the lack of Chinese actors. The whole of the production, however, was in Chinese tradition and standards. The cast, the speech, the stage, and the symbolism were all simple and easily understandable but also very powerful and touching to the audience.; for example every time there was death on stage red rose petals descended from the sky in order to mark this or when there was a sundry beating this was suggested to the audience by flailing sticks that never make contact with anyone.

Although at first I was disappointed by the high percentage of the englishness of the cast I cannot let this diminish the power of the production by the RSC and this is definitely a great classic that you've never seen but one that you must.


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