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THE ORPHAN OF CHAO Royal George Theatre/Shaw Festival
By
Jul 3, 2024, 20:29
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Shaw Festival
Through October 5
THE ORPHAN OF CHAO Royal George Theatre

Before Rome was just one of many feuding city states in the Italian Peninsula, there were warring states in what is now China, each fighting to take over all the others to form a mighty empire.
That will eventually happen, centuries after the story behind “The Orphan of Chao.”
This is a look at murderous behind-the-scenes infighting in the state of Jin, perhaps 2,500 years ago.
The story has come down through time, told and re-told as China changed around it.
This new version is translated and adapted by Michael Man, from “The Great Revenge of the Zhao Orphan” by Ji Junxiang, a manuscript from the late 13th Century to the early 14th Century.
If you have read George R.R. Martin’s saga of Westeros or seen “Game of Thrones,” this will seem very familiar, as it would if you have read of England’s War of the Roses.
It doesn’t take a particular geographic area or a particular race or ethnic group to create civil war.
Here we have a key minister in the state, Chao Ting (Lindsay Wu), and the commander of Jin’s military, Tu-An Ku (Jonathan Tan).
The general not only wants Chao out of office, but also wants his entire family and clan dead.
An assassination attempt linked to Chao triggers an order from the king to wipe out the family.
Chao and his son are killed and his grandson is the last of the line, with the general pushing hard to remove that last scion of the family.
There are a series of deaths protecting the newborn and then there are strange machinations when Chao aide Cheng Ying (Donna Soares) decides to let her own son be killed as the grandson, to protect the real heir.
He grows up as Cheng’s son and the adopted son of Tu-An Ku, unaware of what happened all those years ago.
When he’s told what happened, he kills his adopted father to meet the filial piety rules.
Those rules of those days don’t meet our current standards, except, perhaps, in organized crime.
If I hadn’t studied some Asian history in college, much of this show would leave me confused.
This show has a strong cast, particularly Tan and Soares.
Directed by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, with Man’s script, and her production team and the Shaw’s usual craftspeople it’s a visual and audio triumph, like the wall which extends across the state and the costume designs from Christine Ting-Huan Urquhart, as well as Heidi Wai Yee Chan’s music and sound.
To expand the audience for theater, the Shaw and everyone else are broadening the array of plays going on stage and obviously expanding the talent pool for performances.
“The Orphan of Chao” and “The House That will not Stand” are two examples this season at the Shaw and both deserve to be on stage and to be seen.

A.W.

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