Reviewed at: Swan Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon
Snow in Midsummer currently playing at The Royal Shakespeare Companies Swan Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon. It is the first play as part of an ongoing Chinese Translations Project which aims to bring Chinese classics to a modern western audience.
The play follows Dou Yi who is wrongly executed for murder, at her execution in order to prove she is innocent she vows that snow will fall in midsummer and a three-year drought will strike. Three years after the execution, a businesswoman, Tianyun, enters to the town to take over the factory. With her young daughter tormented by the angry ghost of Dou Yi, it’s up to Tianyun to expose the injustices and end the curse before it destroys the town.
This version has been translated from the Chinese classical drama by Guan Hanqing and is written by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig and is under the direction of Justin Audibert (who previously directed the 2015 show, again at the Swan Theatre, The Jew of Malta). The story is gripping and keeps you guessing right the way through. It is well paced with a running time of 2 hours and almost doesn’t require the 20-minute interval.
Although the opening scenes make you sit and wonder what you’re about to see. It opens with Dou Yi selling things on the street and then it takes off with a techno music and the real story begins. The warnings outside the theatre too, warn of fire, gunshots and scenes some might find distressing also leave you guessing to what you’re about to watch.
It is superbly staged, with a small run of water on either side of the stage and although it’s quite a bare except set, the use props add wonderfully to it and the use of the lighting is excellent. The lighting, under the design of Anna Watson, is a real highlight of the show and adds an extra dimension. Lily Arnold’s design is great and there are some really striking moments visually, none more so than the execution scene. The music is an extra key part of the production superbly composed by Ruth Chan.
Throughout the cast, there are some brilliant performances. Wendy Kweh as Tianyun is superb and you really emphasise with her throughout. Sophie Wong is excellent throughout as child Fei-Fei, certainly one of the strongest acting performances I’ve seen from a child actor ever. I am sure Sophie will go on to great things in the future. Truth be told I could single out every member of the cast as they’re all excellent. Richard Rees is tremendously watchable every time he’s on stage. Sarah Lam as Madam Wong is powerful, certainly in the later scenes of the play. Daniel York has quite contrasting roles, as Master Zhang and Doctor Lu but is strong as both.
Two members of the cast that I must highlight are Colin Ryan and Katie Leung. Colin Ryan, who I have seen in 3 previous productions at the RSC, is brilliant as Handsome Zhang. He has a real presence on stage and it was great to finally see him with more of a leading role. His portrayal throughout, especially in the scenes with his sweetheart Rocket Wu. I don’t want to give anything away but his final scene is amazingly acted. Katie Leung, who millions will know as Cho Chang in the Harry Potter film series, is a revelation as Dou Yi. She’s strong, from her opening scene where she is interacting with people in the audience as she tries to sell things on the street. Her execution scene is full of passion and emotion. She is so strong throughout, whether it’s the tormented life when she’s alive or as the ghost.
Overall, it’s just a tremendous production, it’s tense, emotional and powerful. It’s certainly of the best things I’ve seen at the RSC for a while. I was hooked by the story and the whole production. A strong tale of vengeance. I certainly hope any of the further Chinese translations can live up to this. I’d highly recommend making a trip to see it. It only runs until March 25th, so you don’t have too long!
**As part of the ongoing RSC Key scheme anyone who is between the age of 16-25 can get £5 tickets. A limited number of £5 tickets are available for purchase for each performance in advance, online, over the telephone or in the RSC box office. I’ve been a member of the scheme for well over 5 years now and it’s a fantastic way to see world-class theatre for a bargain. For more information and to register visit the website, click here.**