MagazinesPost Magazine
SUNDAY MORNING

City scope: now is the winter of our discontent

Anna Chen in London

 

When the hallowed Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) cast East Asian actors in a miserly three roles out of 17 in the Chinese classic The Orphan of Zhao (aka, "the Chinese Hamlet"), it sparked an uprising among British East Asians that would garner support from as far afield as America and Australia.

The production, which runs in Stratford-upon-Avon until March 28, included research trips to China and advertisements in Putonghua, and yet we Chinese are virtually excluded.

Given roles as a maid and a ghost, and working the dog puppet, the three young actors of East Asian heritage are left with their noses pressed against the glass while all but one of the leading roles are hogged by white actors. So much for "colour-blind casting".

The excuse for this slap in the face is that the other two plays in the trilogy - reworkings of Bertolt Brecht's Life of Galileo and Alexander Pushkin's Boris Godunov - have "no Chinese connection". You could be forgiven for suggesting that a play set in a nation spanning the landmass of Europe and Asia include characters with features closer to our own lovely high cheekbones.

You might even question whether Brecht was really that much of a realist. Or wonder why a white actress can play a Chinese princess but a Chinese actor cannot play a heretical scientist, as if white was somehow the universal default for humanity.

Perhaps it is the claim that RSC artistic director Gregory Doran interviewed "lots and lots" of East Asian actors - our investigations uncover eight were auditioned out of 100-plus candidates - that set us off. Or the charge of sour grapes, because one vociferous complainant was among the auditionees.

Invisible and neglected, we have long sagged under the weight of our own ineffectuality. But suddenly here we are, the barbarian horde, camping outside the gates and wanting to play nice but also quite looking forward to the odd head on a stick if our oppressors don't. The RSC has now acknowledged under-representation of East Asians in theatre and promised to address it, but it has yet to acknowledge its casting is a shambles. And until I see results, I ain't budging.

 

 

Share

Send to a friend

To forward this article using your default email client (e.g. Outlook), click here.

Enter multiple addresses separated by commas(,)

For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive