Review: Wild Swans

Written for The Stage

Translated into 36 languages Jung Chang’s autobiographical Wild Swans is a suitably cosmopolitan opening to World Stages London. Sacha Wares’ panoramic production makes an aptly ambitious visual spectacular.

Alexandra Wood’s honed adaptation places the onus on one of the book’s Daughters of China with De-Hong (Chang’s mother) in the spotlight. The message of individual versus communism is occasionally heavy handed but this focus also gives Wood time to place the personal firmly at the heart of the political.

A more overarching historical narrative is provided in Miriam Buether’s cycloramic backdrop which straddles the book’s expansive landscape. This versatile set is transformed by the 17 strong cast who, in true Maoist fashion, show that anything is possible through simple hard work. Peasant dirt fields are swept away to become clinical hospitals while concrete paving slabs are lugged over wet paddy fields as modern China buzzes into life. With each new scene the set expands, just as with each chapter of Chang’s story China’s grasp on the world stage gets ever larger.

In the midst of an earnest ensemble Ka-Ling Cheung and Orion Lee, as Chang’s mother and father respectively, give sharp performances that ask painful questions of themselves and a Western audience.

Runs until 13 May 2012