Sun Son Theatre Workshop, Zhuwei, Tamsui, Taiwan
April 23, 2017
A well-known East Asian tale, mostly associated with Lunar New Year, tells of the Mouse King, who sends his best man, Xiao Shuai (小帥) to scour the world to find the perfect husband for his daughter. In the delightful Finding the Mouse Princess the Perfect Groom (老鼠娶親) by Sun Son Theatre (身聲劇場), we join the young mouse on his adventures as he searches for Mr Right, who must be the strongest ‘man’ around.
Multi-discipliniary, cross-art and such terms tends to be overused rather, but with Sun Son Theatre that is exactly what you get. The name ‘Sun Son’ comes from the Chinese words for body’ (shen, 身) and sound (sheng, 聲). Sure enough, its productions that draw on stories, rituals and legends, combine movement, text and music, sometimes multimedia, puppets and song too. What sets the company apart, is that its performers are all expected to act, dance, make music and more, often all at the same time.
Lee Wen-yau (李玟瑤) is an appealing Xiao Shuai, a bright, friendly chap, confident in his own ability and that he’s the best mouse for the job (as he keeps telling us – cue applause!), but also with a nice air of gullibility. He starts off by being menaced by a couple of mean but rather dim cats. The youngsters in the audience much enjoyed the great chase, including through the seats, and when Xiao Shuai hid, needed no encouragement to send the moggies off in all manner of wrong directions. If it sounds like panto, that’s because in many ways it is.
After we get to meet a snake and a rooster, our young hero is off to see the sun, but who it turns out can be blocked out by the cloud, who of course can be blown away by the wind, who can be imprisoned by the palace walls, who must therefore be the perfect groom. But when he tries to get back into the palace, there’s also an encounter with an always smiling English-speaking ‘rules are rules’ guard, whose attitude reminded me of Manuel from Fawlty Towers. His intransigence is a cue for our hero to fight his way past the walls, who turn out to be dab hands at martial arts, but not as dab as Xiao Shuai, who naturally wins through.
Every single character is portrayed with rich imagination and humour. The moral of the tale is never far beneath the surface, but Finding the Mouse Princess the Perfect Groom will have you smiling again and again. Everyone also contributes to the song, dance and wonderful percussion, most of which comes courtesy of instruments made of recycled junk including plastic drums and piping. Remarkably, everything is done by just five performers.
And Mr Right? Well, you guessed it. Xiao Shuai himself.
If you’re at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year, you can catch Sun Son Theatre as part of the Taiwan Season. They will be performing the somewhat melancholic Heart of Darkness at Summerhall from August 4-27, a work that draws on ritual and Taiwanese imagery, that questions women’s destiny, and that is inspired by the life of creator Low Pei-fen’s grandmother. Check out the trailer here.