Review- L'Orphelin- Théâtre de la Feuille


By Rhian Widdowson



Théâtre de la Feuille brings us the perfect example of the traditional being completely transformed. 

‘L’orphelin’ retells the violent story of ‘The Orphan of Zhao’, a historical event where an orphan whose family was massacred takes revenge. I won’t lie, the storyline confused me (a lot) and had me asking many questions, however, I was forewarned of this by one of the actors as they were mingling with the audience before the show started. They explained that most of their audience members would know about this event and its different adaptations so that this would put me at a disadvantage (along with the piece being in Chinese with subtitles). 

‘L’orphelin’ is a no-frills piece of work, where the intensity and atmosphere are built up purely by the actors, not through dramatic costumes or an elaborate set. Don’t misunderstand this as the piece being simple; it is far from it. 

One of my favourite things about any work is when they have live music. So I was very happy when I entered the theatre to see a woman, Heidi Law, sat on the right side of the stage with an array of instruments, some of which I have never seen before. She seemed so calm and collected, an air which she kept about her throughout the whole piece. The music was never intrusive and when used always added more context to the scenes being played out. 

The 5 performers, wearing dark blue simple clothing, continued to mingle with the full audience once everyone was seated, giving a very relaxed feel to the piece. They then began to speak in Chinese in unison, giving background to the event of ‘The Orphan of Zhao’. The lights eventually dimmed and the ‘legend retold through the art of the body’ began. 

The piece used spoken word, dance and interpretive movement, including using their bodies as props, to portray the blood-shedding event. They use these methods one at a time, really pulling in the audience’s focus. I cannot possibly tell you the sequence of events, mainly because I couldn’t follow them, and the fact the subtitles were often unreadable due to the lighting. I enjoyed the piece’s ebb and flow, moving from calm to dramatic, serious to humorous (although I often felt I was alone in my amusement in the obviously funny sections). 

The spoken scenes (translated via subtitles), were clear and helped with the timeline of events, but it is the movement scenes you need to decipher, whereas an audience member you have lightbulb moments when you realise what the performers are telling you through their bodies. For example when Benjamin Tsang begins rocking back and forth portraying a rocking cot or when Liao Shuyi puts Suen Chi Hung’s head under her top to show that she is pregnant. 

My favourite part of the whole show was the, what I presume was, improvised dialogue from the cast which addressed the audience. My friend and I guessed that was one of the performers giving an alternate ending. This section had interaction with the audience, was spontaneous, and even got a few audience members cracking a smile! This section did end up with one performer having his clothes taken off and the others removing their own revealing matching nude underwear. Your guess is as good as mine. 

I was glad I went to see this with a friend so that afterwards we could discuss our thoughts and interpretations to what we thought the performers were portraying. I must admit I’m still unsure why they were pretending to be dogs at one point and why most pieces of work I’ve seen recently end up with the performers in nude underwear?

Rate This Show: 1 2 3 4 5 Audience Rating: ---


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