Review by Anja Bless
Lady Precious Stream has just finished its run at the Flying Nun by Brand X. It is the latest endeavour by Slanted Theatre, a new Sydney-based theatre group which aims to work with Asian casts and crew, tackling tokenistic casting and improving Asian representation in Australian theatre.
Directed by Tiffany Wong, Lady Precious Stream brings back to life a Chinese play written in English by Hsiung Shi-I in the 1930s which was a raging success in London at the time. This long-forgotten work has been resurrected by Wong and the cast and crew into a refreshing adaptation, with Wong challenging that if we can take classical Western theatre such as Shakespeare and flip it on its head using modern conventions, why can’t we do the same with Chinese theatre?
The play centres around the search for the most desirable husband for the youngest daughter of the Prime Minister, Precious Stream (Susan L Young). While her father would like her to choose a nobleman as her sisters had done before her, Precious Stream has her eye on someone far lower ranked, but far more skilled – the gardener, Hsieh Ping-Kuei (Enoch Li). Comedic chaos ensues as Precious Stream tries to manipulate her father (Tim Lim) into seeing her lover as she does. She is aided by her sweet and supportive mother (Chloe Ho) and maid (Jolin Jiang, who is also the show’s composer). Bringing a clowning element, akin to those often seen in Shakespeare, are Mym Kwa and Steven Lu, who each play one of Precious Stream’s sisters, as well as their husbands. Their use of Kung Fu fans to quickly switch between the characters is clever and hilarious to watch.
Wong’s adaptation of Lady Precious Stream also draws on the style of Peking Opera, which combines music, vocal performance, mime, dance and acrobatics. This brought flavour and movement to the piece, helping bring life into the more formal and at times stilted nature of the script and providing ample opportunity for comedy which never missed a beat. Lim in particular for his role as ‘Old Man’ deserves a special mention for his physical comedy. Likewise, Kwa and Lu were drawing constant laughter from the crowd with their dances and squabbling. Further rehearsal by this pair to ensure synchronicity in their movements would have enhanced their comedy further. At times the singing components could also have done with a little more refinement, as not all the cast seemed confident in these sections.
The production design by Rachel Hui, composition by Jolin Jiang, and lighting by Catherine Mai further brought the piece into the 21st century, whilst paying homage to both its traditional Chinese, and 1930s roots. The use of simple props and off-stage cameras for scenes in two locations were clever devices for helping keep the focus on the energy and joyful performances of the actors on stage.
Lady Precious Stream was a pleasure to watch, a refreshing piece of theatre bringing something new and worthwhile to the Sydney theatre scene. Slanted Theatre is pushing the boundaries of performance in a multi-cultural city towards where they should be. Bringing new stories, styles, and performers into the spotlight where they belong. While Lady Precious Stream’s run has finished for now, be sure to catch whatever comes next from this exciting group.
Image Credit: Liangyu Sun