Blind Summit, Mr China’s Son

Review in Issue 14-2 | Summer 2002

An old man from China (a puppet) sits at a table to write; he is attended by three puppeteer-performers who, with three other players, present the old man’s life story from his boyhood in China to his old age in England. He is a modest man who lives in the time of the Cultural Revolution, so things do not go smoothly for him, and he has to wait until middle age for his dream of becoming an English teacher to come true.

The narrative is told through other puppets (with Charlie Llewellyn-Smith as chief puppeteer), some human characters, and with occasional interpolations by a performer narrator. This colourful personage I took to be an incarnation of China’s traditional Peking Opera past, judging by his dress and make-up, but not by his demeanour, which was camp, strident and consciously ‘comic’. He seemed to have wandered in from another show, and offered a surprising, if deliberate, contrast to the realistic behaviour of the puppets. The idea was good, but would have worked better played in true Peking Opera style.

Other comic episodes came from a midget Chairman Mao (when did China or indeed anywhere ever regard him as diminished or insignificant?) and an illustrated ‘Vague History of China’ which skated over the country’s last 50 years or so, including the not obviously amusing Cultural Revolution.

The show was directed by Mark Down and cleverly designed by Nick Barnes with some lovely, moving moments of puppetry, but it did not hang together as a whole, and needed the attention of a good dramaturg. There seemed to be a compulsion to search for and insert the easy laugh which sometimes jarred, interrupting the flow of the tender narrative. However, with the undoubted merits of the basic story, the design and the puppets, it would be a shame not to continue to develop Mr China’s Son. Even in this form, it was an impressive achievement.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Mar 2002

This article in the magazine

Issue 14-2
p. 26