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Madame Mao

Miranda France reviews a new Singaporean production that offers insight into the workings of J iang Qing’s fevered mind.

The wife of Chairman Mao and architect of the Cultural Revolution, Jiang Qing surely has her place secured in the pantheon of the century’s great tyrants. Shortly after Mao’s death she stood accused of the murder of more than 34,000 people through the absolute power with which she invested the Red Guard. She alone was entrusted with the eradication of centuries of Chinese culture. All works of philosophy, Western or Eastern were to be

destroyed, and ballet, an expression of weakness, was reappropriated as a revolutionary dance and accompanied by music extolling Chairman Mao in Jiang Qing’s notorious ‘eight revolutionary operas‘.

Even though Jiang Qing committed suicide only a couple of years ago, she is already a fuzzy memory for most Westerners, so a play which offers some insight into this extraordinary woman’s mind is to be welcomed. Madame Mao does not pretend to do for Jiang Qing what Evita did for Eva Peron (and there are some similarities in the actress-to-power story), but it is an impressive and memorable piece of

theatre all the same. Claire Wong as Madame Mao is remarkably energetic as one minute she portrays the old woman in jail, sentenced to death for her part in the Cultural Revolution, and the next she transforms herself into the twenty-year-old Communist and Mao fanatic with a penchant for Hollywood. Wong seems literally to work herself into a frenzy in her exhausting portrayal of a frenzied woman. The spirit ofJiang Qing is brilliantly and terrifyineg evoked. The set, symbolic red buckets filled with water, is superb, and at one point archive pictures of Mao are projected onto a backdrop to great effect. But the script does let the production down. It is not so much writer Henry Ong’s Hollywood training that grates as the way he puts unnatural words into his subject’s mouth Jiang Qing claiming that she was ‘with child’, for example. Moreover, Madame Mao’s Memories is very much a glimpse into a mind, not a biography. You won’t leave the auditorium feeling that you understand the woman who revolutionised China so much as ‘witnessed’ her. I Madame Mao‘s Memories (Fringe) Theatreworks, Traverse (Venue 15) 2281404, until 30 Aug, 4pm; 1—5 Sept, 6.30pm, £7.

Shining light

Irish playwright Patricia Burke-Brogan rightly won a Fringe First lorthis excellent new play, and deserves praise lor bringing the whole issue oi the ‘penitent women’s laundries’ to the public eye. Magdalen Iaundries, functioning until the 1970s, were tantamount to remand homes tor young women who had not broken the law, but, worse than that, had lallen pregnant out at wedlock and been rejected by lamllies and communities as a result. They scrubbed away the rest oi their youth and sometimes their lives in these church-run Iaundries, trying to wash away their sins along with the grime on the Bishop’s cassock. We can assume that the church made a tidy protit out at the unpaid work ol these women Ior whom God was not a - possibility but a lite-sentence. Burke-Brogan’s play opens in 1992 with a young Londoner who, seeking the truth about her adoption, has traced her birth mother back to a laundry, where one ‘penltent' still lives. Then we tlash back to two days In 1963 and the daily llle ol tour penitents, complete with Elvis-mania, reminiscing about the old times and

more serious talk about religion (one at the women, Nellie Nora is liercely religious, in spite oi It all). The Church comes out at all at this looking pretty bad, at course, but there is a saving grace in the llgure oi the young novice, Sister Virginia, excellently portrayed by Deirdre Molloy. Even the Mother Superior is portrayed not so much as an evil woman as a mouthpiece tor the dogma: ‘Try to rememberthat we are eclipsed', she tells Virginia, ‘but that inside us a light is shining.“

This Is not only an excellent, important play, the standard ot acting

is the highest I have seen anywhere at the Festival. it I were to meet Margaret O’Sullivan, in particular, I would lind it hard to believe that she was not really Nellie Nora. At a time when Ireland Is constantly debating its attitude to women and to abortion, and with the American Republican party vowing to outlaw abortion in all cases, this is a play that aitects us all. (Miranda France)

Eclipsed (Fringe) Punchbag, Richard Demarco Gallery (Venue 22) 557 0707, until Sat 29 Aug, 3pm, £5 (£3.50).


Miranda France suggests live ways to while away an altemoon.

I Eclipsed This excellent new play has been selling out since it won a Fringe First. Set in an Irish laundry for ‘penitent women’ women who have got pregnant outside wedlock, it has contemporary resonances for Ireland and the rest of the world. Eclipsed, (Fringe) Punchbag, Richard Demarco Gallery (Venue 22) 5570707, until Sat29Aug, 3pm, £5 (£3.50).

I Desdemona— It You Had Only Spoken! Eleanor Bron’s stage adaptation and original translation of Christine Briickner’s original script, in which three of history’s slighted or side-tracked women finally get a word in edgeways. Desdemona If You Had Only Spoken! (Fringe) Eleanor Bron, Pleasance (Venue 33) 556 6550, until 5 Sept (not Tue 1), 4.45pm, £6.50 (£5.50).

I Shaker Alison Edgar presents an energetic and resourceful investigation into the life of Ann Lee, the founder of the utopian American movement now better known for its elegant line in furniture design.

Shaker (Fringe) Alison Edgar, Pleasance ( Venue 33 ) 556 6550, until 5 Sept (not Tue 1), 3.15pm, £5 (£4). I Fine Day tor a Hunt Irish theatre company, Punchbag, follow up the enormous success of Eclipsed with something even more harrowing, by Tom Maclntyre, author ofa previous Fringe First. This serious send-up of the seamier side of the aristocracy, focuses on the once-fashionable sport of dressing up servant girls and ‘hunting’ them. Puts a whole new spin on blood sports.

Fine Day fora Hunt (Fringe) Punchbag, Richard Demarco Gallery ( Venue 22) 55 70707, 31 Aug—5 Sept, 5pm, £5 (£3.50).

I Cuckoos Weird adaptation of the weird sci-ii story by John Wyndham, The Midwich Cuckoos. Told in music, movement, Polish and English, it promises to be a Festival highlight.

Cukoos (Fringe) KSW ‘ZA K’ Gdansk and Theatre Workshop Edinburgh, Theatre Workshop (Venue 20) 226 5425, 1—5 Sept, 3.30pm, £5 (£3).

The List 28 August 10 September 1992 25