Wild Swans at the Young Vic

2012-4-2

Alexandra Wood's impressively staged adaptation of Jung Chang's book tells the story of a family set against the backdrop of China's rise.

From start to finish, Wild Swans presents some wonderful visuals. In a move which parallels the opening of China itself, the stage gradually opens up as the play moves through different stages of China's history, from its pre-revolutionary beginnings, through the Cultural Revolution, to the emergence of modern China. China's growth, onstage and off, is accompanied by an impressive amount of pageantry, and requires a considerable amount of manpower to achieve.

The production, like Maoism, relies on the masses to get things done. Therefore, this adaptation of Wild Swans offers an essentially Maoist staging of the play. The staging contrasts with the anti-Maoism of the plot (predictably, one character seeks to escape China because of the lack of free expression). However, next to the rich backdrop of Chinese history, the plot and characters feel flat and somewhat forced. It would be fair to say that the anti-Maoism of the text is completely undermined by the spectacular Maoism of the production.

To be really fantastic, Wild Swans could do away with the story entirely, presenting instead an hour of scene changes, videos, singing and choreography. That, however, would be the Beijing Olympic ceremonies, which is something London refuses to match.

Wild Swans is at the Young Vic until the 13th of May.


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