LITTLE EMPERORS - MELBOURNE
LITTLE EMPERORS, Malthouse Theatre, 9–26 February 2017. Photography by Tim Grey
Australian writer Lachlan Philpott’s collaboration with Beijing-based director Wang Chong has delivered a play about China’s one child policy— “The Little Emperor Syndrome”. It is has been deftly formed and staged with captivating brilliance.
The actors work in ankle deep water with a back drop of a curtain of ribbons of marriage market notices and live camera work from behind the ribbons; a connection of Australia to Beijing Skype-style. The design by Romanie Harper is as inspired as it is a difficult space for the actors. At times small chairs are used to walk across the water. The actors fall, flail and splash, emphasising their personal angst – environment and a policy that splits families.
The set is aided by a terrific lighting design by Emma Valente, which evokes a strong mood, especially with the ripples on the water, and works well with the AV component. The sound design (James Paul) also enhances the work.
Three actors speak in their native tongue of Mandarin and in English; there is the use of surtitles but I was so taken with the performances that I sometimes stopped looking at the translation. It didn’t matter.
Diana (Xiaojie) Lin as the mother thrashes around in pain then gently strokes the water; it is a breathtaking performance. You can’t help but think about how the policy affected so many parents, grandparents and the many hidden children. Knowing too that China’s One Child Policy didn’t officially end until 2016…
The hidden son Yuchen Wang gave us a young man fighting with his lack of family status and sexuality, hiding from them as they had hidden him. He is directing a play about people’s stories of the time of the policy and its effects on their lives. He wants them to own their stories but he is unwilling to own his, he pushes too hard and they all leave. He knows then, that finally, he has to share his.
In all families there is always the mother-daughter dynamic and this is no different. Alice Qin wants more from her brother than he is willing to give and she takes that out on her mother. Qin thrives in this role. Making up the ensemble is Liam Maguire, one of the put upon actors and also the love interest for the son.
This production is innovative, thought provoking, well written, beautifully directed with a strong ensemble.