Young Vic to adapt Wild Swans, the Mao-era bestseller


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The Independent Online

In 1978 the author Jung Chang left China to study in Britain. Ten years later, inspired by a visit from her mother, she began writing about her life in her homeland.

The resulting book, Wild Swans – which is still banned in China – went on to smash bestseller records worldwide. First published in 1991, it has since been translated into 30 languages and sold more than 10 million copies. Now Chang's story is set to make history again, with an international collaboration to perform it on stage for the first time.

The new work, co-produced by London's Young Vic, will appear next April as part of World Stages London, a new season of international theatrical collaborations. Speaking yesterday, Chang said she was "glad the Young Vic is going to transfer it into another art form".

"I was born and raised in China under Mao when China was cut off," she said. "In 1978 I was able to become one of the first group of 14 people to come to Britain. It was like another planet. I soon made friends from all over the world."

Chang, 59, was born to Communist Party parents in Sichuan Province. She became a member of the Red Guard at 14 and worked in various jobs before studying English. Yesterday, she revealed that she was prompted to write Wild Swans, which is emotively critical of the Cultural Revolution and the hardships forced upon her family, after her mother visited her in London in 1988.

The book tells the true story of three female generations of Chang's family. "I didn't want to write anything, I didn't want to look back at the past," she explained. "[But] my mother came to stay with me, she talked every day, and she left me with 60 hours of tape recordings."

Reviewing the book for The Independent, Lucy Hughes-Hallett wrote: "It is an extraordinary story ... popular history at its most compelling ... readiness to record life's small pleasures as well as its looming horrors is not only an index of Jung Chang's honesty and good humour; it is a part of what makes her book so fascinating."

The new production will be directed by Sacha Wares, who directed the Olivier-Award-winning Sucker Punch, which appeared at the Royal Court last year. It will be adapted for the stage by the young playwright Alexandra Wood. The designer will be Miriam Buether, who designed the sets for the Royal Opera House's Anna Nicole, which opened earlier this year.

On the production Chang said: "This new production means a lot to me. To see it on stage. It feels great to know the play is in good hands."

The Young Vic's artistic director, David Lan, said: "We have been working on this project for four years now. It couldn't have come at a better moment. China couldn't be more in our consciousness." Casting was ongoing in New York and London, he added.

The play is being produced in conjunction with Massachusetts' The American Repertory Theater and the Actors Touring Company. It will premiere in Boston in February before coming to Britain.

First published in 1991, Jung Chang's Wild Swans has been translated into 30 languages and sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. Emotively critical of the Cultural Revolution and the hardships forced upon her family by China's Communist Party, the volume remains banned in Chang's homeland.

The paperback version weighs in at 720 pages – none of which have yet been converted into celluloid, despite Portobello Pictures purchasing the film rights in 2006.