Love stories are eternal, and the role of women as victims of romance versus society's will has persisted nearly as long. In a co-production between Britsh theatre company Gecko and Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre, Shakespeare's Helena lives again in modern day China, learning the dangers of getting what you think you should wish for, and to carve her own destiny.
A cast of 10 Chinese performers add their own mythology and contemporary experience to Shakespeare's lovers. The supernatural intervention blends Oberon, Titania and a tiny whirlwind Puck with the ghostly Du of Tang Xianzu's The Peony Pavilion—China's own 400-year-old classic of a lovelorn dreamer. Rhys Jarman's shifting set and clever lighting by Chris Swain transform the fairytale forest into a two-level industrial city. Magic, memories and subconscious conjurations bleed from above into the workaday world of a thwarted office romance. Gecko's trademark visual storytelling keeps the action flowing, but the physical illustration generates little emotional impact.
Uncredited among the ensemble, Helena is expressive of face and small gesture, but more expansive movements come less naturally, while Demetrious moves with charm and charisma. Unforeseen circumstances necessitate movement director Chris Evans' understudy of the Oberon role, although it wouldn't have been possible to guess without the programme insert. The dynamic between him and Titania is as fiesty and passionate as it should be. The ensemble appear between roles as a chorus in trenchcoats and miners' lamps, as if excavating the layers of history and love story to dig out this new Helena. A decorous reconstruction across time, space and fantasy.