Wednesday, December 7

The Ballad of Mulan – Capstone Theatre

Many of us with children know the story of Mulan from its Disney incarnations but Ross Ericson’s re-telling of this classic Chinese tale is far from fluffy. Performed by Michelle Yim, this Mulan is brought to life as the woman, warrior, and legend that she is, the real Mulan who, to save her family’s honour, disguised herself as a man and joined the Emperor’s army.

We meet her ten years on, her true identity still a secret, and with one last battle to contend with, she will soon be going home. But to what exactly when younger siblings will now be fully grown adults and parents, if alive, more aged still.

And who is Mulan? Yim takes us through those ten years tinged with the horrors of war that are offset by subtle moments of humour that resonate with the audience, but it is a man’s world and Mulan is a woman. Or is she? And with the onset of peace what is it she wants to be?

Whilst there is a suggestion that this is a play designed to be analogous with what it means to be a woman today, I found that less obvious, with the play rightly highlighting that the younger Mulan’s drivers were a mix of family honour combined with a natural tomboyishness, and her subsequent exploits only achieved by masquerading as a man.

Where it does succeed is in highlighting the futility of war and how the participants are knowingly and otherwise stripped of their humanity and in that sense the parallel of Mulan’s loss of identity and sense of womanhood is powerfully told. It brought to my mind Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front with its gnawing fears and sense of loss: PTSD is not a modern phenomenon.

As a solo performer, Yim is certainly engaging but aside of parts such as the pike – present; thrust; repulse; thrust – there could have been greater audience interaction, but this probably reflects more on the style of the writing and production as a whole.

Whilst there was some beautiful Chinese music playing as I entered the auditorium and some use of AV during the piece, the sounds of battle were too fleeting and the occasional use of the backdrop for Chinese calligraphy lost its magic with the accompanying voice over translation.

The parts are here, the message is strong, and the performance more than capable but they need stitching together better across the sixty minutes with greater use of sound and prop.

Red Dragonfly Productions has been making East-Asian stories accessible to British and international audiences since 2014 whilst retaining the authenticity and spirit of the original text. Further details https://www.reddragonflyproductions.co.uk/

Liverpool Hope University’s Angel Field Festival runs from 24th June to 3rd July, further details http://www.thecapstonetheatre.com/whatson/

Red Dragonfly Productions have an upcoming show, The unforgettable Anna May Wong, about the tragic and wonderful life of the 1930s Chinese-American Hollywood actress, performing at St Luke’s Bombed Out Church in Liverpool on 18th July at 8pm, further details https://www.acc360.co.uk/liverpool-theatre-festival-1621440908-the-unforgettable-anna-may-wong.html

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 27th June 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★

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