Chun Yi: The Legend of Kung Fu, Coliseum, London
Tuesday 04 August 2009
Chun Yi: The Legend of Kung Fu takes martial arts spectacle and wraps it up in a lumbering production. Performers dive through acrobatics, trapeze, endurance and fight scenes, then stop dead for cosmically dull waffle about life's journey.
This touring production aims to mix Broadway and kung fu. A boy comes to the temple, but is frightened by the prospect of monkish and martial arts discipline. The abbot (David Yip) tells him the story of another boy's learning, struggle and eventual success.
The plot advances through martial arts set pieces, with a clunking spoken narrative by Broadway director Ray Roderick. Where a Western production would suggest listening to your heart and following your dreams, Chun Yi argues that the novice must learn to control his dreams. But the sugary, aspirational tone is the same. There's no suspense, no emotional power.
Chun Yi, the hero of the abbot's story, is played by several different performers – not just child and adult versions, but different specialists from different martial arts. There's one who fights elaborate battles, one who does endurance tests, and another who is seduced by a sorceress on a silk trapeze.
These feats are impressive. Warriors bound through somersaults, wield rattling tin swords or whirl weighted ropes. Performers balance on spears, their whole body weight on a single point. Chun Yi lies on a bed of swords, with a bed of nails resting on his stomach. A second monk lies down on the bed of nails. At last the other performers put a solid block on top of this monk sandwich, and smash it with a mallet. The child performers have a terrifying backflip that involves landing on the crowns of their heads.
But such skill is badly served by the production. The pacing is poor, even in the martial arts scenes, and Zheng Bing's taped music is full of slushy orchestral washes, with odd bursts of imitation Stravinsky for battle scenes.
In Han Lixun's designs, the stage is framed by mobile, clanking sets. It's a big production, with silk costumes, Chinese dragons and projected scenery, but the staging lacks fluency.
Chun Yi is full of performers doing incredible things, but the show keeps selling them short. In trying to make the narrative universal, the performance has simply become too cheesy.
To 16 August (0870 145 0200)
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