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Thursday 19 November 2015

Amber (German Title: Bernstein), written by Liao Yimei, directed by Meng Jinghui, Beijing Young Dramatists Association, Schauspielhaus Zurich, 7.5* out of 10

Director Meng Jinghui and his enthusiastic and talented acting ensemble manage to maintain coherence and dynamism in this play of two disparate halves. 

Gao Yuan is a charismatic small time crook, expert at extracting financial gain out of any life situation. Operating from a shady downtown club, he leads his entourage, a motley crew of none-to-bright hangers-on, who help him carry out his various schemes. 

Bored with the easy success of his various small-time schemes, Gao Yuan decides for his next scheme to enter the national big time (; when national is all of China, it is bigtime by any standard). Yuan’s new plan, fully in tune with the Zeitgeist, is to ghost-write a blog detailing the sexual exploits of a 21st century libertine girl. For this purpose, he also engages a young lady of suggestive looks, easy-virtue and negligible intellectual faculties to front as the blog’s actual author. 

But Gao Yuan is a crook with a heart. And when his heart seriously malfunctions, after his blog-plot has been exposed before he can reap its profits, he finds himself in hospital undergoing a heart transplant. While this does not seem to have much influence on his character, it does in some mysterious ways lead to him meeting a young lady museum guide, who is not his type at all, but seems to have developed an inexplicable interest in Gao Yuan. Almost imperceptibly, and disturbingly for the unprepared seemingly unchanged and unfazed Gao Yuan, she finds her way to his new heart and more. 

The production of the Beijing Young Dramatists Association uses costume music and dance very effectively to create the ambience of a dystopian comic-strip world eerily close to the one whose pictures and icons invade our space nowadays through television, cinema and social media. For European audiences very much dependent on the surtitles for being able to follow the Chinese dialogue on stage the the visual cues and the dynamism and enthusiasm of the young ensemble are not only enjoyable but genuinely helpful. The fact that a non-Chinese speaking audience is able to follow what is going on and not to tire from the effort of reading surtitles is a tribute to director Meng Jinghui as well as the acting ensemble with Kong Yan as a charismatic lovable rogue in the role Gao Yuan. Yu Lei und Jnby & Croquis also deserve a special mention for costumes.

Amber is a play of two halves, which are at risk of not fitting together; the fact that this production manages to maintain coherence and does not lose the plot is a credit to the director and the acting ensemble. 

The Schauspielhaus is to be commended for bringing this contemporary Chinese play to Zurich, even if only for two performances.

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