Based on a classic Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms , this production presents a fascinating story – but just lacking a slight touch in the details. 

Siu-See Hung as WangJingWei and Michelle Yim as DiaoChan.JPG
Siu-See Hung and Michelle Yim in DiaoChan. 

Red Dragonfly productions and director and playwright Ross Ericson have created an intriguing piece of drama that focuses on the fictional character in Luo GuanZhong’s original novel – a courtesan or ‘singing girl’ by the name of Diao Chan.

The audience watches as she manipulates and charms her way to the men closest to the Emperor, who just happen to be  in control of the kingdom. But not everything goes her way and as the plot that she originally helped create with WangYun falls apart – she realises the true cost of ambition and power.

Ericson’s production is at its strongest when it comes to the storytelling, but doesn’t give us enough about the characters – meaning that it can be difficult to understand the motives of each of the characters. There are also issues with the lighting and music, which when changing seems abrupt and not as smooth as you would perhaps want.

But there are some excellent performances to enjoy. Michelle Yim as DiaoChan is particularly effective, providing plenty of charisma and has a confidence about her that can be seen in the moments with DongZhuo (Angelo Paragoso) in which she manipulates him to go horseback riding with her or anything else she desires.

Meanwhile, Siu-See Hung as WangjingWei can be slightly over the top and needs to calm down slightly – particularly when she realises that LuBu is more interested in DiaoChan than her, her reaction is perhaps not as convincing as it could be. But when she appears as DongZhuo’s mother, she has a perfect comic timing and sharpness to her performance, that suggests nothing gets past her when she winds up DiaoChan slightly.

To see the way in which Arthur Lee transforms his character Lubu from a charming soldier into an angry and violent general is well carried out as even from the early stages of the production it is clear that LuBu has a level of resentment for DongZhuo, but explodes when he realises that his father has taken DiaoChan for himself.

It also has to be said that the costumes are absolutely fantastic and truly authentic, capturing the audience’s imagination and helping them to feel drawn into the story. Yet at the same time, the energy of the story is slowed down by soliloquies that although give us an insight into the character’s minds don’t feel effective when it comes to the language that it uses, distracting us from the main point of the plot.

It is a mixed bag of a production that is just lacking a few details in terms of character development, plus in terms of the lighting and music that if sorted out could potentially make the plot stand out even more and become a more rounded production.

DiaoChan: The Rise of the Courtesan appears at the Arts Theatre until the 28th May. For more information and to book tickets visit: https://artstheatrewestend.co.uk/whats-on/diaochan:-the-rise-of-the-courtesan/

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