THE ORPHAN OF ZHAO
RSC (The Swan), Stratford Upon Avon
Runs: 2h 45, one interval, till 28 03 13
Review: Alexander Ray, 08 11 12
A most welcome orphan to our shores.
THE ORPHAN OF ZHAO is a completely absorbing performance. It won’t please everyone, it’ll make others feel they’re wasting their time, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, found it stimulating and revelatory.
It’s one of the most performed plays in China and – as with the Mexican play earlier in the year – it’s always interesting to obtain a glimpse into another culture. In the case of Zhao, though, the form is deceptively, perhaps subversively, challenging. Zhao is a tale of gigantic proportions, spanning years, generations, clans, peasants and royalty, yet it’s also a simple tale of folk archetypes – a child must be hidden to be saved, will he grow up and save the world, revenging his ancestors’ deaths?
The form juxtaposes both simplicity and complexity too. Characters make simple (albeit huge) decisions – the stakes are always high . . . ‘Shall I let my baby be murdered in order to save the royal baby?’ The context of the decision, the ramifications of it, the ramifications of not making a decision (and so on) are where the complexities lie.
‘We shall tell you a simple tale,’ the actors seem to be saying, ‘and as we tell it, you must think about it.’ And so we do.
A strong company moves the play along with great energy. Joe Dixon creates a fine power-hungry courtier, Tu’an Gu, balancing villainy and comedy. Jake Fairbrother is an excellent young Prince, not only does he look kingly, but he has,also, a natural grace and delivery which sustains the belief. Not often absent, though, is Cheng Ying, the country doctor, thrust into the tale when asked to save the baby prince. This is superbly played by Graham Turner (great to see him back). His gentle, naïve manner is a powerful contrast to the sweeping actions of the aristocracy, we sense a warm heart beating beneath the simple tunic. The final sequence between the Doctor and the ghost of his dead son (Chris Lew Kum Hoi) has us holding our breath and sends us away feeling fulfilled.
Gregory Doran has done well to bring this intriguing and educative tale to Stratford, he has directed with detail and, as is frequently the case, has allowed the play to find it own feet on our shores.
(Credits to follow)