Wednesday, 7 November 2001

Beyond the Gate of Heavenly Peace , NOV 7, 2001

by John Ashton and Jian Guo Wu
La Mama at Carlton Courthouse until November 24, 2001
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The image of a Chinese student standing vulnerable and resolute in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square is indelibly printed on our common psyche. We are chillingly reminded of this event by video footage in this play.

The immigration to Australia of young people from Mainland China after the massacre is the theme of Beyond the Heavenly Gate, by John Ashton and Jian Guo Wu.

Four young Chinese arrive in Australia on student visas. Their fates and backgrounds comprise the spine of the narrative. 

In the capable hands of director, David Branson four actors, originally from China, Singapore and Indonesia, play the lives of immigrants in this timely story.

There are some problems to be ironed out in the form and structure of the play and in the performances, but its themes are compelling. When the emotional level of the acting deepens, the play is at its best. 

Zu Jihong's ( David Lih) rage at seeing his friend shot and Lu's (Fanny Hanusin) loathing of Australian hypocrisy are passionate moments.

Branson successfully edited the script from three hours to ninety minutes. The play is built on Wu's own experience as an immigrant and in the student uprising at Tiananmen where he was injured.

Ashton's performance poet background gives the script a lyrical and atmospheric language. This is enhanced by the traditional Chinese poems spoken by a Chinese 'coolie' from the 19th century goldfields. (Ron Morales)

The live, original music by Kelvin Tan, Nick Craft and Melissa Compagnoni  is evocative as is the video footage.

Wang Jun ( Warwick Yuen)plays a former soldier who shot  students at Tiananmen. His regret and shame bring him to Australia to find a new life. His friend, Zu Jihong, is an unrealistic, impractical  gambler. His sad fate is sealed. 

The frightening thread of the narrative involves Judy (Hanusin), the daughter of an influential Beijing family. She rips off new Chinese immigrants and uses her timid flatmate (Lorraine Lim) as her puppet. She despises Australians and capitalism. Ironically, she ends up a flourishing business manager. Her refugee application was a tissue of lies. 

The tragedy of the story is palpable. The struggle to survive and overcome adversity is strong. However, Wu does not stint on his criticism of those immigrants who manipulate and abuse their countrymen for their own gain.

By Kate Herbert

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