BY MORAG PHILLIPS
A Life on the Silk Road tells the epic tale of ZangQian; a royal envoy/politician who was sent by the Emperor Wadi to explore trade routes and make contact with tribes in central and West Asia. This epic journey, famous in China was to become known as The Silk Road.
The National Theatre of China has brought us a lavishly costumed and beautifully designed spectacle brought to heart by the soulful acting skills of WU JUNDA who plays Zang Qian. This is an alliance between China and France in both music and media. Using a fusion of Physical theatre, Masks, Puppets and Digital media, we are transported to 2nd Century Han dynasty and travel with Zang Quian on his arduous journey; experiencing his trials and tribulations on the way.
The scene where he is in the mountains fighting through wind and snow are particularly gripping. By clever use of white silk and snow like confetti we become part of the swirling whiteness. In fact the use of silk throughout, as flags and sandstorms; walls and wind is a subtle reminder of the title and subject of the show.
This company of 16 are highly skilled and meticulous. They are directed by Zhao Miao, with digital imagery by Mathieu Sanchez and music composed by Uriel Barthelemi. Each component complements the other. I particularly enjoyed the beautiful playing of the Pipa (a mandolin type instrument) by Pan Yu, who is present onstage in the shadows throughout the show.
Although I recognised the quality of this production and was indeed impressed with much of the imagery and effect. It failed to tell me the story, and perhaps as a result of that it felt too long ( 1hr 20mins). Some sort of narrative at beginning may have helped, though one expects a story to come out as an effect of the performance.
A shorter show with greater explanation may have kept the several audience members, who left at various intervals, sitting on their seats till the end.
My advice would be to read up on the story before attending.