18 December 2010

Hungry Ghosts at The Orange Tree

Hungry Ghosts scored heavily in several departments but some serious flaws let it down. But let's start with the a little scene setting and some of the good news.

A British F1 driver, Tyler Jones, (with hints of Jensen Button) lives the rich bachelor playboy life until during preparations for a race in China he gets embroiled with F1 politics, rumours say he will be replaced by a Chinese driver to keep the people with money happy, and through a chance encounter he also gets involved in the real politics of dissent in China.

Clearly this is fertile ground and the plot's multiple threads grip you firmly from beginning to end. So do the characters (mostly). We have the Tyler's PA/PR who is bright, sharp, feisty and sexy. A journalist who comes to interview Tyler has a history of dissent and has since made a fortune through his Party connections. His sister still dissents and looks like a Che Guevara revolutionary so that we get the point.

The staging and direction are up to The Orange Tree's usual high standard. This standard is so high and so consistent that it is easy to overlook it but it would be criminal to do so.

The was that The Orange Tree exploits its unique layout and, through this, interacts with the audience is what makes an evening there such an event.

And the acting performed on this stage was also very good, especially the PR and the journalist. They were all unknown to me and I guess that they were recruited specifically for this play as the actors playing Chinese roles looked Chinese.

Despite all these considerable strengths the play failed for me on two counts.

The plot hinges on two characters suddenly changing course and both changes are somewhat unconvincing. Both had a lot to loose by the change and no real motive for doing so.

It also makes a large play on human rights in China that was even less convincing given the unfortunate timing of what wikileaks is now telling us about our own government behaves, the detention without charge of the man behind them and the fractured state of our own democracy that has given us a government that nobody voted for and is breaking every promise it made just a few months ago.

Unfortunately China bashing has been popular in recent years and it's a shame that this play, that is strong in other ways, has to leap on this simplistic bandwagon.

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