The Fairy Princess was sitting, all snug in her bed, while visions of Equality dancing in her head…when from across the Pond, there arose such a clatter, she sprang from invitations to Conferences to see what was the matter….
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water….
This is Gregory Doran, and he is British. He is not ONLY British, he is ‘veddy, veddy’ British, and has been acting and directing with the esteemed Royal Shakespeare Company since 1987. He is more British than Downtown Abbey, he is more British than Dames Maggie, Judi, and Peggy ! (Though he is in fact Nothing Like a Dame.) What he IS, is a conqueror.
In the great tradition of the sun never setting on the British Empire, he has helped make England once again an Invading nation! Not just of hemlines and great butts….
…but of theater, no wait, I have to spell it their way - Theatre!
Gregory Doran, the Lord Dudley of Dialogue, the Wolsingham of Words, the Essex of Iambic Pentameter, he has DONE IT!
He has conquered CHINA!
Not even MYTHIC China, but actual, true, Yuan period China!
Just to catch you up, the Yuan period was founded by the great Kublai Khan, (who was the Grandson of a little guy with an attitude problem called Ghengis. Yes, Ghengis Khan. Who was Mongolian. Which, is Asian.).
Right after Khan decided ‘if you like it better stick a flag in it‘ – which was in the 13th Century, there came a playwright - Ji Junxiang. He wrote, they believe 6 plays, but this, The Orphan of Zhao has survived the ravages of time AND was the first zaju (Chinese “Mixed Drama or Play) to be translated into a Western Language! Go Ji Junxiang! Author, Author!
OK, so it’s translated. Now what do we do with it?
If I was looking for a British company to take a new spin on a Chinese classic, which many give the same weight to as a little forget me not called HAMLET, I would likely pick The Royal Shakespeare Company.
And not just because I have dual citizenship with Australia and am therefore under the realm of
And not just because my Mum happens to be an Advanced Teacher in the British Royal Ballet System and was the youngest to ever achieve that, and then they raised the age limit and it will never, ever be done again. (My Mom kicks ass and takes names en pointe!)
No, I would pick RSC because they are known for great work, and a play that has stood the test of time like The Orphan of Zhao, deserves that. Who would do a better job at a centuries old play with a new translation?
Why NO ONE! No one could do a great play better than the Royal Shakespeare Company – they have swords, they have training, they have accents, and they have cheeky bits they throw in for the commoners. They even went to China – real, actual, modern China, to find the right look for the show. All of which I applaud.
Research is a key ingredient to theatrical success, and after doing all that research, they decided upon this image to promote the show:
Ah, but does it look like THIS punim?
Yeah…uh…not so much…..
If you have read me before, you know from past posts how much I love it when they put Emperors of China into plays and guess what - there IS an Emperor of China in this play! I wasn’t sure what an Emperor of China from this period was going to look like, but not to worry, not to worry -Gregory Doran knows, because when he wrote about going to China for research, he used this picture of an Emperor of China on his blog:
So of course, when casting his play he went with this guy:
Because that just made sense.
Oh ALSO in this show is a Chinese Princess! Perhaps they are going to try harder with this one, because the Princess is a pivotal character and kills herself and all that kind of stuff. This time I am going to find my OWN image of a Chinese Princess – I mean, I cannot keep relying on Gregory Doran, he’s busy!
So…how did I do, Mr. Doran? Am I close?
Let’s throw it to Lady Grantham
In fact, there are 17 Actors in this show, The Orphan of Zhao, and out of those 17….3 are of Asian Heritage. Which explains this Cast Photo:
And this one:
Out of the three Asian heritaged actors 2 of them play dogs, and one plays a maid.
Holy Nanking, Batman!
So lemme get this straight – this is a Chinese play, the setting is China, they went to China to get the technical aspects right, but what they did not bring back from China was the notion that there are CHINESE PEOPLE IN CHINA!
What? They went and saw La Jolla’s Nightingale and thought “Oh, the Colonies, they always get it wrong, I know exactly how to fix this!”
This is not a male Swan Lake,
this is not a Sondheim musical where people sing and dance during patter songs while playing a tuba
- this is a play SET IN CHINA!
How many times do we have to talk about Diversity in China during the 13th Century?
I repeat, there WAS NO DIVERSITY AMONG THE EMPERORS IN 13th CENTURY CHINA!!!!
BECAUSE IT IS GD CHINA, WHITE PEOPLE!
If you set a show in Africa, Mr. Doran, would you cast the Emperor of Africa as a Caucasian Man?
I’m thinking, probably not.
I will state, for the record – I have NO, count it zippo, nada, nunca, no problem with Diversity. I LOVE DIVERSITY. But here’s the thing, translate the play – go ahead, fine, Bravi for doing it, but do not set it in CHINA! Put it somewhere ELSE. Or, here’s a thought…crazy but it might work – CAST ASIAN ACTORS IN A PLAY SET IN ASIA.
Because to Chinese people, the title of EMPEROR OF CHINA, or PRINCESS OF CHINA means something. For heavens sake, would you cast Joan Chen as Princess Diana? Could she play it? OF COURSE – would British people believe it? No. This is not just bursting through The Great Fourth Wall, this is using dynamite and boiling pitch so the fire can be seen from space!
Here is the kicker RSC, and bloody hell is it ballsy- you take a CHINESE play, take OUT the Chinese people, and then you have a link to order the tickets & get play information IN CHINESE- IN CASE CHINESE HERITAGED PEOPLE WANT TO GO? Hooker say what?
I’ll tell you what I would say: cào nǐ zǔzōng shíbā dài (肏你祖宗十八代) = screw your ancestors to the eighteenth generation!
Actually, RSC, you are quite behind, here in the Colonies we went through this months ago. There was a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s fable, The Nightingale, the leads were Caucasian, and of the two APIs in it, one was a BIRD (sound familiar?) and the other was a spoiled Princess.
Which offended my eye, so I plucked it out and wrote about it.
Then you see, over 25,000 people across the globe read my blog post about The Nightingale, and it set off a giant ruckus. Which led to a ‘talkback’ with the Asian American Theatrical Community at La Jolla Playhouse. The next time their AD was directing a show, Glengarry Glen Ross he did THIS:
Diversity, in an appropriate way, did great things for that show – it had fantastic reviews, because Diversity is how the world looks today. Everyone won. The Fairy Princess has no problem with Diversity. The Fairy Princess has no problem, personally, with the Actors cast in The Orphan of Zhao - I am sure they are amazing, they are after all, with the Royal Shakespeare Company!
The Fairy Princess has a problem with the Artistic Decisions made in Casting this show. Because Asian Actors are completely and totally underrepresented in commercial and public theater. Therefore the ‘argument’ that you are making the cast Diverse by casting Caucasians as Asians is like saying you are starting an All Girls School that will only be attended by the Men of Manchester United. It doesn’t make sense.
And no, crazy Interweb nutjobs -don’t yell at me about once upon a time ‘there was one black actor in a Shakespeare show, or the second spear holder past Caesar’s epaulets could have maybe been Asian.’
That’s not an excuse to white wash CHINA.
Now, likely, yes, I am not going to work in England, regardless of my passport, because of this post. And likely, Gregory Doran is going to view me as an Upstart Yank who doesn’t know what she is talking about.
Mr. Doran, I want to let you know, that I happen to be Irish, Welsh, and Chinese – with dual citizenship from the USA and Australia. My Family, on both sides, has been under British rule for centuries, so when it comes to Imperialism, the family has had it’s fair share. Why are you hearing from me? Way over here across the pond?
This is WORSE than The Nightingale!
(But I bet La Jolla Playhouse will be sending you a muffin basket of thanks)
You have a trailer with accents! Starring a Caucasian baby! Who comes next on the screen? A Caucasian man in a peasant hat that you likely bought IN CHINA…when you were doing research for this Chinese play you chose to do! You haven’t even tried to ‘escape’ the issue by calling it something stupid like “Mythic China” (Steven Sater, I’m talking to you). You are setting the show in real, actual CHINA!
I am just…I cannot….words have escaped….you are the ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY!
Fie on you, Sir – FIE! I lay the bulk of responsibility for this fiasco of international relations at the door of Artistic Director Doran – because he is Directing, and wrote a blog about all the research he was doing, but how could anyone who wrote/adapted a play about China allow this to happen?
JAMES FENTON – wherfore art thou?
Veddy, veddy bad form and five swipes of the wand to you, I beseech thee, m’Lords -
Kiss my Fan Tan Fannie!
Oh and PS – MOISES KAUFMAN APOLOGIZED!
Which means I scored a HIT – a VERY PALPABLE HIT! (Ahem)