Shanghai Sheba & The China Monologues
09/02/2006 - 09/02/2006
Created and performed by Sheba Williams
Backing by Tim Solly and Richard Wise
The extraordinary Sheba, citizen of the world and sometime resident of Wellington, is back with cheongsams on from six months in Shanghai. While working in cabaret in the “city of decadence” (her words), she researched and developed a show rooted in its most recent 100 years.
with Jean Yves Dushime
Theatre , Solo , Music ,
Review by John Smythe 30th Mar 2006
The extraordinary Sheba, citizen of the world and sometime resident of Wellington, is back with cheongsams on from six months in Shanghai. While working in cabaret in the "city of decadence" (her words), she researched and developed a show rooted in its most recent 100 years.
A Chinese opera star who becomes Miss Shanghai 1906, a German cabaret singer in the 1930s, a mid-century Red Army cultural revolutionary, and finally a modern Shanghainese woman con artist mythologize the eras through songs and writings, some sourced from history, some created for the show.
It’s an idiosyncratic mix to say the least. Brilliantly backed by Tim Solly and Richard Wise, Sheba excels in the songs, melting into them as if they were her natural habitat. Even when she loses her way in the less-rehearsed monologues, her charismatic performance persona carries her through. Maybe it got better for the 10.30 show.
The link segments, needed to allow Sheba to metamorphose into her next incarnation, have a definite fill-in feel in the hands of Jean Yves Dushime, dressed as a winged angel in a gold-beaded head-dress and bejewelled turban but claiming to be God. I suppose we have to thank him for not attempting to personify the prophet Mohammed.
He too comes most alive when he sings but his spoken repartee also needs work. More importantly, while wacky juxtapositions are clearly in order in the tale of a cosmopolitan city, a Christian God of western child-like fantasy – albeit black and groovy, man – seems ill-conceived.
Is it too logical to suggest Chinese Gods and mythology might be a more fruitful resource? With a plethora of timeless deities, the wisdom of Confucius, the ritual magic of Daoism, the sublime spirituality of Buddhism and the ancient art of Feng Shui as starting points, all sorts of irreverent fun is possible.
Assuming Shanghai Sheba will return at some point (as her fabulous Josephine Baker tribute did last year) I trust the show will achieve the fluency needed to liberate us from too much awareness of the here and now, and transport us more freely into richly textured flights of fancy.
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