THE RED COURT
This new play by noted local writer Clare Reddaway seeks to parallel a murky tale of ruthless political ambition in China with Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The story is based on the true life career and downfall of Bo Xilai, though all names have been changed here (though not necessarily to protect the innocent). There are strong similarities between the murderous politics of mediaeval Scotland and the jockeying for power in the modern and equally cut-and-thrust world of high office in China. There is a ruthless politician striving for kingship or its equivalent; there is his equally ambitious wife; there is murder; there is the betrayal of anyone who might get in the way of our man’s path to the top. And there are prophecies, here from a Chinese traditional fortune teller, rather than from witches with a cauldron. The Shakespearean links are emphasised with occasional verbatim quotes from Macbeth. The parallels don’t fit absolutely with the Bard’s tale, though maybe that doesn’t matter: here it’s wifey who sees the ghost, not the main man; and there is only one murder to deal with – though the implication is that large numbers of people have their lives ruined, if not ended, in political crackdowns organised on his behalf by his police chief, who has, and is encouraged to have, a disregard for correct legal procedure which would shame Life On Mars. Everyone; the police chief, the politician, his wife, his English business advisor, is a schemer and plotter in pursuit of their own ends. Everyone is prepared to betray everyone else. There is not, as in Macbeth, any saintly Macduff to bring relief from tyranny at the end.
But does all this work as theatre? Yes, in large part it does.
The cast of only four bring out the labyrinthine plotting, corruption and dirty tricks vividly, enlivened by the sometimes cheeky commentary from the narrator/fortune teller, and convincing portrayals of the slimy businessman, the guilt- ridden wife, and the panicky police chief. But Mayur Bhatt’s somewhat over-bombastic performance in the lead role, despite his striking physical resemblance to the real-life Bo, makes it difficult to believe in the relaxed and charismatic outward political persona and sexual appeal he is stated to have.
*** – 3 Stars
John Christopher Wood