Top British racing driver Tyler Jones arrives in Shanghai, a city like any other Western city on the surface, but after coming across a pro-democracy human rights campaigner Pin-de, his view of the modern China is changed forever and he decides to communicate the story to the outside world ruining his career in the process.
Hungry Ghosts is essentially a political piece, focusing on the West’s relationship with China, and their human rights record, set against a backdrop of Grand Prix. The idea is a good and timely one and as China increasingly plays a larger part on the world stage, demonstrated by David Cameron’s recent visit, no doubt further playwrights will choose to produce plays on the subject.
Whilst an interesting premise, where the piece does feel lacking is in the relationship between Pin-de (Lucy Sheen) and Jones (Andres Williams) which - we come to discover - is actually a romantic one although we never really believe it. This being the catalyst that provides the key to Jones’ new outlook, you would expect a pairing to be much more developed. So, ultimately, it is difficult to understand Jones’ conversion away from closed eyes and big cheques to the life of a campaigner who shuns the high life. This also suggests that the Grand Prix backdrop was perhaps not the right choice to marry with the political plot line, which is where the real story lies.
However, the production by Tim Luscombe suits the Orange Tree well, just suffering slightly from lengthy scene changes, and Tim Meacock’s design is simple but stylish echoing both the new and the old China. As with many productions where a writer also directs, it does feel that the overall job would have been better if the roles were split but this opens the doors to further comment on our relationship with China, which will be of renewed interest.