Wednesday, 24 October 2012

RSC: No Chinese allowed, except in the forms of dogs and maid

Apparently this kid is not in the play. 

A recent controversy has brought to the attention of the British Chinese community over the casting over a play produced by the Royal Shakespeare Theatre called 'The Orphan of Zhao' (趙氏孤兒). The play is an adaptation of a classic Chinese play. So what's the deal? Despite the Chinese themed production apparently only three out of the 17 roles will be played by Asian casts, one as a maid and the other as puppeteers of some dogs. That means the rest will be filled by yellow-faced non-Asians. A row has been drawn out on the company's facebook page.

I'm not familiar with theatre scene myself but I'm guessing it's just the same with British films and TV, that East Asians don't get much representation or typecast into stereotypical roles. Unless they're doing crazy acrobatic stuff like in Shaolin Warriors or Monkey. But even roles that should be consist of Asian casts, non-Asian actors are preferred in the disguise of exotic make-up and dresses. Have this been a play based on African Caribbean or South Asian theme the RCA would have not given it the same treatment. This showcase once again that the so called diversity and multiculturalism we are bestowed on often exclude Chinese or East Asians. It's funny that a Chinese kid was used on their poster ad which is misleading.

 It is not a new concept for Western theatres to adopt stories from other cultures into their plays. In fact The Orphan of Zhao was the first Chinese play ever to be adopted by Europeans in the 18th Century. Similarly Shakespeare's works have been adopted into Asian plays by transcending the settings in order to bind in with their local culture. To be fair the RCA could've avoided this controversy by doing the same, if casting Asian actors is such a bane then maybe a full out European medieval setting would've worked but instead they choose to go for the old fashioned 'yellow-faced' route. The RCA try to kept it at least 'half authentic'; endorsing the exotic Chinese theme but without having any Chinese in the main roles. I'm sure our community are not short of theatrical actors/actresses. This once again implicates the problem that is facing by East Asian actors in the UK. Honestly it's better to have no Chinese in the play rather than being used as 'props' on the stage just for the sake of making up the diversity.

RCA has claimed they've tried to use a multiracial casts to represent universality and colour-blindness, but really casting white Caucasians is their own way to ensure that it'll appeal to Western audience. Like as if people are afraid of seeing 'yellow faces' on stage. So why having Chinese actors in main roles are still unacceptable? Considering Chinese megastars like Jackie Chan and Jet Li having huge appeal to Western film audience, and more recently a Korean pop song became a worldwide hit, I don't see why it can't be the same in theatre with Asian casts. Seems to us the RCA are still stuck behind the times.

Check out Madame Miaow's blog for extensive coverage.