Green Snake, brought to the Fringe by the National Theatre of China, promises to be a modern take on a old Chinese myth. The piece uses projected screens and music by Scottish composer David Paul to produce a contemporary and edgy version of this well known tale. Originally written by Lillian Lee and adapted by the well-known Asian writer Tian Qinxin, this aims to be a fusion of ancient and modern life in China.
This piece is put together beautifully.
The story tells the story of Xian Qing, a 500-year-old snake spirit and Suzhen, a 1000-year-old snake spirit, who refer to themselves as sisters. Almost immediately, we hear of their determined struggle to transform into humans and seek a human existence. They learn to control their snake-like forms and develop the ability to look and walk like women. Suzhen, the white snake, is seeking true love with a good man, whereas Xian Qing, the green snake, is much more mischievous and follows far more carnal desires. As Suzhen pursues a local apprentice, whom she quickly marries, Xian Qing sets her sights on a monk from the local monastery and causes lots of problems for everyone involved. One of the monks realises the girls’ true spirit forms and banishes them, at which point we discover that Suzhen is pregnant. A battle breaks out as she fights to see her new husband, who is thoroughly confused by the whole thing and can't seem to recover from the idea that his beautiful new bride is actually an evil snake spirit.
This piece is put together beautifully. The makeup and costuming of the two lead females is flawless and the simple use of long fringing as tabs works really well. All of this alongside simple shimmering projections onto the back screen and some really effective props makes it visually very effective.
Where this show was let down slightly for me was a slight lack of consideration for those of us who don't speak Chinese. It's no problem at all to have your actors talking in any language with subtitles and it can be an effective way to create an authentic piece of theatre. However, by having the projector on the front seats, the actors on stage continuously block out the words and, on this occasion, for a good 15-minute period the order of the slides was completely muddled and made no sense at all.
In addition to this, the humour of this piece was slightly lost on me. The "modern" take on it clearly went down well with the majority of the Chinese audience, but many of the comedic elements felt like private jokes; perhaps some editing of their subtitle slides would help.