REVIEW: Teahouse

Jing Huang is impressed by the ADC adaption of the Chinese classic

ADC ADC Mainshow ADC theatre Cambridge Cambridge drama cambridge students Cambridge Theatre Teahouse Theatre

Spanning over four decades, Teahouse invites us to look at the vicissitudes of China from the crumbling of Qing dynasty (1898) to the recommencement of Chinese civil war (1945) through various dealings of people of different classes in Yutai, a large teahouse in Beijing.

As the director of the first English performance of Teahouse, Nicholas Ashurst, together with his team, did a wonderful job translating and transforming 1950s Chinese humor—you can expect more than a few hilarious moments with the pimp Pock Mark Liu (played by Yuhang Wu) and Tang the Oracle (played by Gemma Jing).

Stage setting before the show

It is also worth noting that some male roles are played by female actors. For instance, one of the leading characters, the teahouse manager Wang Lifa is played by Sophia Luu who contributed a memorable performance as a slick business woman eventually embittered by wars and oppression. Though I applaud the efforts, gender-swapping nonetheless gives rise to the question of whether it is a realistic reflection of the gender politics in war-time China.

Kang Shunzi played by Claire Takami-Siljedahl

In terms of publicity, I do hope that the team can release more photos of rehearsals, meetings and costumes to give us a taste of how the show is built—especially because this is a “first-time-ever” endeavour.

The last ten minutes of the play came as quite a surprise. Though hints were dropped as the patriots suffer and teahouse business declines, the tragedy at the end was still a bit abrupt. As much as I welcome a good laugh, the slapstick humour in the previous scenes indeed slackened tensions and conflicts, and I shifted my focus away from the Wang Lifa’s quiet despair.

The frenzied recounting of past pains by Wang Lifa, Qin Zhongyi (a once wealthy business man whose property is confiscated by the government) and Master Chang (a bannerman) was neither Shakespearean or Chinese: the power of their monologues was greatly undermined by melodramatic elderly tremors and underwhelming storytelling. However, I do believe that some adjustments in pacing would help to accentuate the tragic tones of the play.

For a  play with more than thirty characters, Teahouse offers vivid life stories of almost all of them and fulfils its mission to introduce a Chinese classic to Cambridge audiences, despite the flaws.

If you want to know more about fin-de-siècle China or just enjoy a good laugh, go see the show!

3.5/5 stars