BWW Review: THE PEASANT PRINCE Brings The Story Of Mao's Last Dancer To Life For The Young And Young At Heart In A Beautiful, Moving Expression

April 9th, 2016, 6pm, Lendlease Darling Quarter Theatre


Monkey Baa Theatre Company has created another wonderful work for children with their interpretation of Li Cunxin's children's book THE PEASANT PRINCE. An adaptation from Li Cunxin's autobiography Mao's Last Dancer, this work tells children, in an intelligent way to follow their dreams, not matter how impossible they may appear. The stage play is written by Monkey Baa's Eva Di Cesare, Sandi Eldridge and Tim McGarry with the script consultation from Li Cunxin.

Jonathan Chan as Dia and JOhn Gomez Goodway as Li Cunxin (Photo: Heidrun Lohr)
Jenevieve Chang as Niana and John Gomez Goodway as Li Cunxin (Photo: Heidrun Lohr)

The audience is greeted by Michael Hankin's (designer) set of broad wooden picture frame with a rear projection of the block print, red propaganda images of Chairman Mao and his communist China. As the image changes to a watercolor painted red expanse of a theatre curtain and the sounds of an orchestra tuning up are heard, we first meet Li Cunxin (John Gomez Goodway) as he prepares to dance the role of the Prince in Houston Ballet's The Nutcracker. As he is told that his parents, who he hasn't seen in 6 years, are in the house, the audience is drawn into Li Cunxin's memories.

Edric Hong as Cunfar, John Gomez Goodway as Li Cunxin and Jenevieve Chang as School Teacher (Photo: Heidrun Lohr)

Utilizing a changing array of projections, the poverty and the communist oppression of the small village in Shandong province, China, that Cunxin and his 6 brothers grew up in is shown. Through Cunxin's memories of his father Dia (Jonathan Chan), mother Niana (Jenevieve Chang) and brother Cunfar (Edric Hong), we see the bleakness of their lives along with the love and hope that his parents have for him. The indoctrination of Chairman Mao's China is expressed as Cunxin and his classmates repeat devotional mantras to the leader each day until a government official comes to the school looking for students to be selected for Madam Mao's Beijing Dance Academy. The fear and homesickness of the 10 year old offered a better life at the prestigious, big city school is palpable and the expression of the power of the Chinese government is intense.

Jenevieve Chang as School teacher, John Gomes Goodway as Li Cunxin and Edric Hong as Government Official (Photo: Heidrun Lohr)

Director Tim McGarry has opted to employ a variety of accents for the work allowing a differentiation between age and authority and enabling the work to be more accessible to younger audiences. The younger characters, Cunxin included, are presented with the actors' natural Australian accents. The parents are presented with a Chinese accented English and other characters are presented with a variation of accents to define the characters given that Chan, Chang and Hong present the other roles with minimal change to costumes which Hankin has kept simple, with the blue cotton of Mao's China, homespun jackets to ward off the cold of rural china with the only variation being when Cunxin meets the dapper American Ben Stevenson, Artistic Director of Houston Ballet. .

John Gomez Goodway as Li Cunxin (Photo: Heidrun Lohr)

Movement Director Danielle Micich has created a range of poignant and emotion filled movement with more comic choreography such as the dance school sequence that conveys the passage of time. Composer Daryl Wallis has created a soundscape of western and oriental styled music to complement the scenes. Lighting designer Sian James-Holland, in conjunction with video designer David Bergman allows the work to move between the locations and set a tone from the bleak family home to the bright dance studio lessons and the middle of the night secret rehearsals.

Jonathan Chan as Teacher Xiao and John Gomez Goodway (Photo Heidrun Lohr)

THE PEASANT PRINCE is a wonderful story of hope and achievement out of the bleakest of situations. Presented for young people, it is honest and unapologetic in its dealing with difficult subjects allowing the opportunity for education and discussion, from the effect of communism on the citizens of China, the fables that father Dia and Teacher Xiao use to inspire him, the love and hope that his parents have for Cunxin to have a better life and the challenge of defection and being cut off from his family. This is a must see production that will move and inspire.

THE PEASANT PRINCE

DATES & TIMES:

9th April (3pm)

11th - 20th April (10:30am and 12:30pm)

FOR: Ages 6+

VENUE: Lendlease Darling Quarter Theatre

TICKETS: $29pp / $104 Family of 4 / $125 Family of 5 / $25pp Groups of 10+ (no

BOOKINGS: www.monkeybaa.com.au or 02 8624 9340

Terrace 3, 1 - 25 Harbour Street, Sydney

(across from the Children's Playground at Darling Quarter)

booking fees apply)

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