Thursday, 3 October 2013

Cho Cho, Oct 2, 2013 ***

Written by Daniel Keene
Arts Centre Melbourne, National Theatre of China, & Playking Productions
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, Oct 2 to 6, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars:  ***

 Full review also published in Herald Sun in print. KH 
 LR.Wang Zheng (Cho Cho) & Han Xing

Cho Cho, by Daniel Keene, crosses artistic boundaries by merging different performance styles, and bridges cultural borders by performing in English and Chinese.

Director, Peter Wilson, highlights drama with music and puppetry in this updated version of Keene’s 1985 play that is based on the heartbreakingly tragic tale of Madam Butterfly.

Cho Cho (Wang Zheng) is married – or sold by her greedy relatives  – to an American naval officer, Captain Pinkerton (Scott Irwin), who soon abandons Cho Cho and her child, promising to return when the robin nests.

Three years later he returns with his cold, American wife (Danielle Barnes) to claim his son, shattering Cho Cho’s last vestiges of hope.

Thirty years after the acclaimed 1980s production of Cho Cho San by Handspan Theatre, Keene’s play boasts performers from Australia and China and is transported from Japan to 1930’s Shanghai.

Keene’s evocative, lyrical language is a feature of this production, providing grim but romantic lyrics that conjure the dank rivers, gloomy alleys and Cho Cho’s destructive melancholia.

Another highlight is the elegant, tender manipulation (puppeteer, Han Xing) of Cho Cho’s sweet, bemused toddler and of the beautiful, otherworldly puppet that represents Cho Cho on her wedding night.

In a clever, metaphorical undressing of his bride, Pinkerton dismantles the Cho Cho puppet, leaving us with the ugly sense of witnessing a delicately wrought but distressing violation and destruction of this naive, young girl.

The poignancy of this story is most evident in Pinkerton’s return and Cho Cho’s realisation that all hopes are dashed.

The production does not successfully balance the comic with the tragic and, while such a moving story should leave an audience gripped and aching for Cho Cho, her final, desperate action feels strangely unmoving.

Another problem is that Cheng Jin’s eclectic music, although it draws on traditional Chinese and modern Western music, is not memorable and does not effectively illuminate the moving story or Keene’s eloquent language.

Wang Zheng has a pretty soprano and is suitably girlish as Cho Cho, although her performance lacks nuance and emotional range.

Irwin has a powerful voice and captures Pinkerton’s self-centredness and vanity, while David Whitney is compelling and a sympathetic as his friend, Sharpless.

Du He and Dong Wenliang, as Cho Cho’s grabby aunt and uncle, provide comic relief but this often undercuts the sincerity and truth of the story.

I was privileged to see previous productions of Cho Cho San and, unfortunately, the music and style of this version cannot compete with that first, gloriously touching Handspan production.

By Kate Herbert


No comments:

Post a Comment