Review Round-Ups

Review Round-up: Wild Swans soar at Young Vic

Based on
Jung Chang’s best-selling book, {Wild
explores 20th century China through the eyes of one courageous family.

Featuring Harry Potter star Katie Leung, the production also marks the beginning of the World
Stages London
festival which celebrates the diversity of London’s
people and cultures.

for the stage by Alexandra Wood and directed by Sacha Wares, the
production explores the early days of Communist hope and
struggle, through the chaos and confusion of Mao’s Cultural
Revolution, to the birth of a superpower.

plays at the Young Vic until the 13
May 2012.

Michael Coveney

“This brilliant stage
adaptation … conveys the essence of a 500-page tome in under 90 minutes and proves a wonderful way of launching World Stages London…
The full width and narrow depth of a stage that designer Miriam
has previously exploited in Brecht’s The Good
Soul of Szechuan
are ideal for an ironic Communist pageant,
a revolutionary poster play with red flags, little red books,
choreographed peasants and a teeming nation on the move. Chang’s
chronology is followed but condensed and to fine dramatic effect… The play cannot rival the
book’s sense of the desolate arc drawn between friends and families
… but in its close detail and theatrical sweep – there are dozens
of people on the stage – it creates a real world of automaton-like
regimentation… It all amounts to the best kind of didactic
theatre, impassioned and the complete opposite of boring. And the
design is truly amazing.”



Jung Chang‘s doorstop
epic … is unstageable in its entirety. But Alexandra Wood‘s
90-minute adaptation, vividly directed by Sacha Wares, captures its
indomitable personal spirit … Buether’s stunningly articulate
design is worth a million words … Katie Leung, previously known
for being Harry’s first snog in the Potter movies, is sensitive and
intense as the teenage author. But it’s her mother who emerges as the
true heroine here: Ka-Ling Cheung plays her with vehemence, grace
and understanding. Ultimately, it’s the setting that’s unforgettable.
Jubilant national music, exultant pageants of portrait-waving
Maoists, or resigned dirt-sweepers change the scenes, emphasising the
human scale of China’s revolution – and visibly dissolving the
individuals in a many-handed display which is as thrilling as the
Beijing Olympics opening ceremony – but far more critical of
totalitarian values.”

Michael Billington

“Much obviously is left out. But Wares’s
production, through the genius of Miriam Buether’s design, pinpoints the
unfolding story of Mao’s regime. It is as if the stage, scene by scene,
is gradually opening up to reveal the historical narrative. Thus the
evening begins with an evocation of the chaotic bustle of pre-People’s
Republic China seething with water vendors, wildfowl, booksellers and
bargaining. A hessian backdrop is then stripped away to usher us into a
world of propagandist poster art, rural rituals and banner-waving Red
Guards. That too gives way, thanks to the stunning video work of Wang
Gongxin, to a vision of the watery labour camps, steam-belching
factories and crowded cityscapes of China in the late Mao years… Orion
Lee as the author’s father, Ka-Ling Cheung as the mother and Julyana
Soelistyo as the grandmother delineate their characters with swift
economy. And what impresses is how much of Maoist China has been crammed
into a single evening. On the way home, I was reading a magazine
article about modern China and how it was rapidly overtaking the US not
just economically but also in terms of education and civic
infrastructure. It is salutary to be reminded through Wild Swans of the
human cost of China’s progress to global superpower.”

Susannah Clapp


have just seen the best stage design of the year … Miriam
‘s vision of Wild Swans
does exactly what superlative design can do: render not only the look
of a place but the rhythm of a play … Much condensed for the stage,
the narrative is altogether broader and more approximate, as if
totalitarian flattening of language, the attenuation of the private
individuality were infectious. When the personal and political fuse,
in the manner of Chang’s book, Sacha Wares’staging … ignites…
Still, the indelible impressions are visual: the bamboo and bicycles
of the opening scene, where the warlord appears as a blue-faced
puppet; the rosy faces and pigtails of revolutionary banners; the
large watery wastes of the paddy fields where Jung Chang is
forbidden to speak to her father, denounced by the regime, which
stretch on video into the infinite distance as the sun slowly




can’t tell you how enormously refreshing – and vitally important
– this evening is… Alexandra Wood’s adaptation … acts as a
fantastic cultural-historical primer without short-changing us of
dramatic emotion… Beginning with a teeming old market and ending
with a soulless modern cityscape, these are beautifully rendered
along a narrow strip of stage by designer Miriam Buether – with
evocative support from Beijing video artist Wang Gongxin. Yet each
vista is replaced, with ruthless efficiency, before our eyes by the
populous ensemble (rising to 30 on stage at times), once it has
served its function. These coups de theatre are like ‘great leaps
forward’ of the upheavals experienced by Chang’s compatriots,
especially under Chairman Mao… The show … summons myriad sights,
sounds and even smells while racing us across the tumult of the 20th
century… Superb.”

Fiona Mountford

Evening Standard


Jung Chang’s
epoch-defining Wild Swans … is 645 pages long.
Alexandra Wood’s stage adaptation runs at just under 90 minutes
straight through. That’s simply not enough book for your buck, even
if Woods and director Sacha Wares have hit upon a stylish scheme of
impressionistically capturing key scenes from Chang’s epic text …
What the play desperately requires is a second half of equal length,
to flesh everything out and to allow Harry Potter actress Katie
… more than a couple of brief scenes of whining. In light of
these time strictures, it seems especially perverse to spend so many
wordless minutes on the scene changes … Miriam Buether’s
designs niftily recount China’s rapid technological hurtle down the
years. Yet during the time it takes the large ‘community chorus’
of extras to sweep the widened-out stage clear of soil we could have
accomplished at least a Medium-Sized Leap Forward … There’s some
worryingly flat acting, but Wares certainly has a well-trained eye
for striking visuals … Nonetheless, what I long to do now is return
to the book to fill in the many gaps.”