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Golden Child, New Diorama Theatre – Review

David Henry Hwang 

Directed by Ng Choon Ping

Pros: Dramatically relevant and as thought provoking as it is spirit-lifting as a play. Marvellous costumes and scenes. Good character development.

Cons: Some hesitant acting especially in the first half but nothing that would detract from this play’s magic atmosphere.

Our Verdict: A very well made production of a much overdue British adaptation of this Chinese-American multi-awarded play. Thoroughly enjoyable and highly recommended. 

Credit: Anna Nguyen

I was thrilled to be invited to the alluring London premiere of infamous playwright David Hwang’s most autobiographical play Golden Child, of New York’s Broadway fame.

The play explores the relation between Chinese and Western cultures and how different yet similar they may be at times. The shows magical moments takes the spectator through a fascinating story of old Imperial China and Opium addiction, right across through to polygamy and Christian colonization. Apparently, it was produced from tape recordings made by a 10 year old David Hwang, who asked his distraught parents to travel to the Philippines and interview his dying grandmother “to preserve the history of the family”. Thirty years and a few Tony and Obie awards later, the Chinese-American playwright master finally distilled his 1998 play “Golden Child”, winning many a heart across the USA. Sadly, the play never made it across the puddle to the UK, at least not until True Heart Theatre company finally fixed this shameful gap.  This was with additional thanks to the generosity and foresight of the Arts Council England.

In the modern-yet-cozy environs of New Diorama theatre, the performance faces a modern depictio  of the original encounter between grandson (Siu Hun Li) and Ahn (Jacqueline Chan), now equipped with touchscreen smartphones instead of 1960s tape-recorders. Oh and instead of hailing from California, our grandson comes from Edinburgh and sports a lovely Scottish-Chinese accent.

As the story develops, we are transported back to 1918 where the wooden and linen frames of the simple but effective stage suddenly coming to life. Lights fade in the background, costumes appear in all their elegant glory and traditional colourful bandages appearing at the actresses’ feet.

The three wives of great-granddad Tieng Bin make their appearance and First Wife (Lourdes Faberes) makes it immediately clear as to who holds the power in the house. Second Wife (Tuyen Do) and Third Wife (Yuna Shina) are busy stabbing each other in their backs ahead of their husband’s return from the Philippines.  The play throughout is a feast of colour for the eyes with the decoration and stage props abundant in glorious Chinese technicolour.

As the storyline develops, the true message becomes apparent. What are the effects of “westernization” on a proud, centuries-long tradition? What if a family, social-based value suddenly embraces ego-centricity and self-determination? What if a “new God” can bring His teachings into the heart of life of a remote village?

Some scenes really stood out for their magic. Particularly, the scene in which Tieng Bin is finally alone with his beloved third wife, the one he chose by himself, dancing away to the sound of Verdi’s la Traviata. To her surprise, he wants to indulge in her body, asking her to slowly undress and being led by his man because “this is how westerners show their power over their women”.

True Heart Theatre manages to bring the important shades of character development intended by Hwang’s original script very well. This includes the showcase of old Chinese’s polygamous families lifestyle, as well as the introduction of the “White Devils” way of life. We also see the struggle in Tieng Bin’s value system and the dramatic consequences of his choices.

At times, especially in the first half, some of the acting appeared a little indecisive and slow but overall the play progressed smoothly and enjoyably, with some outstanding performances especially from Chan, Faberes and Do. The cast were successfully able to bring me back nearly a Century and forth again to today’s society. I left the theatre a bit nostalgic and really wanting to have a tea ritual and wear a silky dress…

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Golden Child runs at The New Diorama Theatre until 12th October 2013
Box office: 0207 383 9034 or book online at http://newdiorama.com/whats-on/golden-child

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