Dreaming Under the Southern Bough

[email protected] mount an original adaptation of Tang Xianzu’s A Dream Under the Southern Bough. Xianzu was a playwright and he died 400 years ago, like our dear Bard. But he’s obscure and Chinese; therefore he’s the kind of under-appreciated source ripe for a Edinburgh Fringe performance. It’s now Dreaming Under A Southern Bough, though—for some reason. The production’s also muddy and passionless—for clearer reasons.

At the very least, [email protected] deserve credit for what they’re adapting.

Meet Charles ‘Chunny’ Fen, the ex-soldier who’s returned from war with nothing do. He joins a hippie commune. Then he finds himself in a literal ant colony (emphasis on ‘finds himself’ because this is an existential journey he’s on as well as a weird one). How does he enter the colony? No idea, but the point is that it’s fantastical. And yes, really: he’s a man among ants. These things are alive, speak and want Chunny to help them in the ant-wars with neighbouring anthills. He’ll find ant-love, get ant-drunk and have hot ant-sex, all in 40 minutes. However, this isn’t the antic ant-tale you expect. It’s more fantasy genre fiction than myrmecology.

It’s over too quickly. I understand the source material is brief, but there aren’t nifty workarounds to centre the confusing action. It’s an effort to grasp, and that befits its dream-like stature, but this also means it’s an effort to care. [email protected] is student-based but Southern Bough is written and directed by academics. Even with expert hands you can’t help but feel some context is lost. Foggy subplots, paper-thin characters and tentative staging don’t help the already baffling plot. Of more concern is the modernisation of the language, which turns the potentially potent Chinese into a bland soup of fantasy tropes. There’s courting, there’s war, and nothing’s very special about it. There are poetic insights, but they don’t cohere with the more pedestrian dialogue. Blanketing all this is Southern Bough’s least inventive facet: its direction. Primarily ‘enter, walk to spot and speak dialogue’, it’s upsettingly static for a play about warring ant colonies.

At the very least, [email protected] deserve credit for what they’re adapting. Their aim for this work is consistent with fringe theatre DNA: to reveal hidden glory in the unsung world of art. It doesn’t succeed but there are decent performances, especially the princess, whom I’m struggling to find the name for since Southern Bough is really that obscure. Not a stellar piece, though if [email protected] follow their exhuming instinct next year I’ll be sure to check them out. 

Reviews by Oliver Simmonds

Quaker Meeting House

One for the Road

Assembly George Square Studios

Taiwan Season: Solo Date


All In


Single Varietal



Greenside @ Infirmary Street

Ears on a Beatle


Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £600,000 to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now



The Blurb

‘You can run from everything but yourself…’ Celebrating 400 years of Chinese playwright Tang Xianzu, [email protected] present the first theatrical adaptation of his seminal Dreaming Under the Southern Bough. The story of one man’s search for enlightenment in the kingdom of the ants is given a dynamic and contemporary twist. Charles ‘Chunny’ Fen is an ex-soldier, unsure about his future and haunted by the memories of his past. On an isolated Island, with his two closest friends, he embarks on a surreal journey that will literally change his life.

Most Popular See More

The Lion King

From £45.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Tina - The Tina Turner Musical

From £13.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Mamma Mia!

From £18.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Matilda the Musical

From £25.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Come From Away

From £25.00

More Info

Find Tickets


From £29.00

More Info

Find Tickets