Review: Thunderstorm

‘The mistakes of the parents are the mistakes of the children’

Beginnings are fundamental, and Thunderstorm has a captivating one: to the sound of a waltz, two dancers slowly carry us from behind a translucent veil into the depths of this drama. These are aquatic depths, as the visual motifs of fish and water, and the sounds of drops and rain will constantly remind us throughout the play. And they are dark depths, for their names are Loneliness and Fate, and they will devour everyone involved.

Image credits: Qi Yang

Thunderstorm is the tragedy of a bourgeois family who, ignorant of its past sins, is doomed to repeat them. But this crew, directed by Yizhen Wu, has transformed Thunderstorm into a poem of love and desire. Combining lighting, sound and digital image, they created moments of great beauty. And yet how few things they need to achieve this. On stage, only three descending veils, a wooden seat, a table and a flower vase. The veils divide the scene in fore- and background, giving it depth; the table and vase at the left edge, on top of a small stair, give height to the scenic picture; and the arrangement of the actors between these areas gives an overall impression of rich spacial complexity. At the same time, the translucent veils allow for an intriguing interplay of live projection, digital image and silhouettes of characters who we cannot fully see, yet whose presence we strongly feel, as they interact with other characters at the front stage.

Image credits: Xinyue Ma

The artistic team emphasise their intention of leaving behind a realistic style, and without doubt they succeed in it. Actors, instead of just facing each other, display a variety of means: they interact sometimes facing the audience, occasionally with their back to us, sometimes through a veil, or while pacing around the room. At some point they even step into the apron, full of soil, or cross the stage unnoticed, like ghosts. Thus, scenes evolve in a dynamic way. At certain moments, a special lighting turns them into dreamy atmospheres; other times, aided by percussive sounds, they achieve a strong emotional tension. But a word at least for the cast, who sustain the whole performance with an incredible level of energy: all of them have a firm stage presence, a quality not always easy to find, and play their role passionately. I must confess that the elder characters surprised me in particular, as they were incarnated with convincing maturity, despite the actors’ youth (Chris Lau and Erin Tan). Xuefei He and Queena Peng face, in my opinion, the most challenging characters, and they live up to the intensity required, giving them also a charming touch of mystery. The rest of male roles (Qi Liu, Rachel Guo, Lingquan Kong and Sicong Li), while not being so emotionally expressive, nevertheless stand out for the calm naturalness with which they are performed.

I feel, however, that the show could benefit from clearer directorial decisions on particular aspects. It did not always make complete sense, for example, why some props were physically present while others were only mimicked; or the reason for introducing and cutting projections at a certain moment, and using certain sounds. I fear, also, that the captivating richness and complexity of the first act fade towards the end, and this sadly robs the finale of the dramatic force that, as a climax, it should have.

Image credits: Qi Yang

Thunderstorm remains a bold experimental attempt with many interesting features. It is a poetic and expressive staging. And it is as well a cross-cultural experience that brings an East-Asian story to the Cambridge scene (eight years after the last time modern Chinese drama was on the ADC stage!)


Thunderstorm is showing at the ADC Theatre from 14th – 18th May at 7:45pm. Book your tickets here.

Feature image credits: Xinyue Ma

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