Two Chinese-inspired pieces: Xchange by Dramatic English Shenzen & Qing Snake by Xiao Bai Art Theatre

theSpace @ Venue 45, Edinburgh
August 8 & 13, 2019
Qing Snake:

David Mead

The Edinburgh Fringe has a place for all, children’s theatre and dance included. These shows are often rather impressive. One such at theSpace @ Venue 45 certainly wrapped everyone up in its warmth and good humour.

Xchange (變形計) by Dramatic English Shenzen Theatre Company (劇英語) is a children’s musical. East meets West in a cross between the Chinese story Racoon for Prince and the well-known Prince and the Pauper. There’s a meeting of times too, it being set during the Song Dynasty, but played out in a very modern theatrical way.

The theatre company is part of the Dramatic English Shenzhen school, which gives children and teenagers the opportunity to learn English through the arts, from audition through rehearsal to performance, in the process building up self-confidence, creativity, verbal skills and much more. The young performers, aged approximately 10 to 16, put all that on show in an hour that also demonstrated some excellent performance skills. It did have the feel of a school play, but a quality one. It was also quite delightful and easy to follow.

Monte Meng (centre) as Prince En in XchangePhoto courtesy Dramatic English Shenzhen
Monte Meng (centre) as Prince En in Xchange
Photo courtesy Dramatic English Shenzhen

Prince En is bored of the royal life. He sneaks away to the street and meets a child Xie, who looks exactly like him. The two kids decide to exchange roles, Xie turning out to be rather smart and quick on the uptake. But when the emperor passes away, the plan goes out of control with lots of misunderstandings and mix-ups that leave plenty of opportunities for light humour.

As the Prince, Monte Meng (孟琦童) was nicely initially naive but eventually smart enough to see exactly what was going on, while Eric Pei (裴羿) as was super as the Xie, bringing all his streetwise savvy to the palace. Also impressive were Annie Long (龍園園) as the Prince’s mentor and tutor, Miss Yang, who worked out early that something was not quite right; and Julia Wang (王悠然) as the Prime Minister who sees an opportunity to grab the throne for herself. I also rather took a liking to the expressive Lisa Liu (劉苇曼), one of the Prince’s guards after he had been captured.

Annie Long and Julia Wang in XchangePhoto courtesy Dramatic English Shenzhen
Annie Long and Julia Wang in Xchange
Photo courtesy Dramatic English Shenzhen

It really was a lovely way to spend a late afternoon; something of an unexpected pleasure. I could just have done without the political overtones and the politicians’ speeches at the beginning.

Also at theSpace @ Venue 45 was Qing Snake by Xiao Bai Art Theatre. Apparently, it “presents with the concept of female body shadow performance with the essence of Chinese intangible culture aesthetics, also an exceptional scenographic stage would also be implemented to ensure a fantastic experience could be granted for all of the audiences.” [sic]

What appears to be the group’s only work, the piece is adapted from the well-known Chinese Legend of the White Snake. There are some pleasing moments, especially in the shadow puppetry, and some lovely snapshot images but the choreography is generally lacking and its execution too often disappointing.

Anyone expecting to see the traditional story would be disappointed. In Qing Snake, Qing is a green snake transformed into a woman, the two sides of her character equating to the idea of yin and yang, presented, if I understood it correctly, through black and white umbrellas. Much is made of the piece being immersive and audiences participating in the piece itself, although it adds little.

Qing Snake is an admirable attempt to bring together various traditional Chinese art forms and influences to create a piece of modern physical theatre. Perhaps there are simply too many ideas. It certainly suffers from a lack of clarity, as indeed did that dreadfully mangled English of its publicity, despite the project’s management committee including Masters students from three UK universities.