The Secret of Dongting Lake

Concert Chamber - Town Hall, THE EDGE, Auckland

04/10/2010 - 09/10/2010

Production Details


A Dragon, a Princess, a Hero and an Army of Gangster Rats run riot these school holidays when The Secret of Dongting Lake opens at the Auckland Town Hall on October 4.

Based on a Chinese folk story, The Secret Of Dongting Lake follows our young hero Chen Yang as he leaves his life in a poor fishing village and sets sail across Dongting Lake in the mighty General Wong’s army. Disobeying orders after saving a water dragon, Chen Yang is washed ashore after a fierce storm destroys the ship. Here he meets the Empress of the mysterious island and her beautiful daughter. All isn’t a fairytale for Chen Yang though, as he discovers on the eventual return to his village.

This premiere production has attracted a top team of Auckland’s finest creators, producers and designers for what is set to be a visually arresting and magical piece of children’s theatre. Acclaimed writer Michelanne Forster first developed this as a script idea for the Calico’s Children’s Theatre. Her original script, designed to be performed by young school students has been re-imagined by Forster for this new adaptation which boasts a professional cast and caters to an audience of 6 – 10 year olds. Forster is a much loved and revered NZ playwright (The Rosenberg Sisters, Daughters of Heaven) who also brings her experiences with a younger generation of New Zealanders as a children’s book author.

With his work hallmarked by innovation, director Ben Crowder‘s previous work for young audiences has included Silo Theatre’s sell-out smash hit Badjelly The Witch and the large scale touring production of Buzzy Bee’s Big Day Out. Not resigned to simply catering for younger audiences, Crowder’s innovation has led to his most recent work, 360 (debuting as part of the International Festival of the Arts in Wellington) and the 2006 Chapman Tripp award winning Head – which pushed contemporary technologies with the theater form.

The Secret of Dongting Lake features a cast of eight actors who bring over 20 colourful characters to the stage. Offering audiences a truly authentic and original experience the producers have chosen to cast actors with Asian heritage. With a cast featuring the diverse and eclectic talents of –  
JJ Fong (Pop Starlet and Recording Artist),
Mitchell Kwan (Gymnast and Springboard Diver),
Omer Gilroy (Young and Hungry, member of hip hop crew Clueless),
Min Kim (Runway Model and Graphic Designer),
Yuri Kinugawa (Memory and Desire, Me and Dick Frizell),
Leand Macadaan (Rent, Asian Tales: Native Alienz),
Perlina Lau (Short and Sweet Festival, Music Teacher), and
Hweiling Ow (Best Actress for Auckland 48hr Film Competition).
All of the cast in this production are of East Asian descent.

Dongting Lake is a real lake in North Eastern China. The area is well-known in Chinese history, literature and art. Dragon boat racing is said to have originated here and a dragon-king is said to live at the bottom of the lake. With its rich mythology and ancient traditions it makes a wonderful and highly engaging subject for a theatre production. 

With its exciting visuals, madcap action and talented team The Secret of Dongting Lake is set to be an amazing and entertaining school holiday adventure.

The Secret of Dongting Lake has been generously funded by Auckland City and Creative New Zealand. 

Preshow Entertainment: Storytellers from Auckland City Libraries will be reading from 10.30am until the show at 11am.

The Secret Of Dongting Lake plays:
4th – 9th October 2010, 11am
Concert Chamber, Auckland Town Hall, THE EDGE
Tickets: $15.00 plus booking fees, Bookings through THE EDGE: 0800 BUY TICKETS or, Recommended for ages: 6-10 years

JJ Fong (Princess Lotus Flower)
Mitchell Kwan (Liang Xing, Servant, Sidekick Rat)
Omer Gilroy (Empress, Soldier)
Perlina Lau (Water Lily, Old Woman, Sailor, Grandson)
Min Kim (Chen Yang)
Leand Macadaan (General Wong, Warlord Rat)
Yuri Kinugawa (Lady Wisteria)
Hweiling Ow (Sergeant, Sailor, Lieutenant)

Ally Xue, Kengo Hosaka, Joel Zhuo-Wei, Ngeaw and Monica Chung


For The Oryza Foundation for Asian Performing Arts
Associate Producer: Yee Yang “Square” Lee
Assistant Producer: Sharu Delilkan

The Secret of Dongting Lake Team
Set Designer: Simon Coleman
Costume Designer: Sara Taylor
Lighting Designer: Philip Dexter
Sound Designer/Composer: Andrew McMillan
Choreographer: Megan Adams
Assistant to the Director: Venus Stephens
Production Manager: Sumathi “Sums” Selvarajan
Assistant Production Manager: Anders Falstie-Jensen
Stage Management: Sumathi “Sums” Selvarajan, Anders Falstie-Jensen, Jay Howard and Venus Stephens
Set Design Assistant: Pip Smith
Lighting Operator: Stuart Phillips
Sound Operator: Jeffrey Holdaway
Wardrobe Technicians: Kat Wells, Yvonne Van Baardwijk and Lynh Pham
Vocal Coach: Cameron Rhodes
Musicians: John Bell, YuTong Chen, Toshiakira Hoshino, ZiQian Li, Chris O’Conner, ZuoQuan Tian, and ShiQing Wang

Publicity: Michelle Lafferty & Joanna Lee Kelly, Elephant Publicity
Original Artwork: Brydie Wilson
Surtitle Translation: Carol You
Surtitle Operation: Josephine Stewart-TeWhiu 

An exotic holiday treat

Review by Nik Smythe 06th Oct 2010

The long, wide traverse stage starts out empty save for the large paper full moon hung at one end and a tall oblong paper window at the other, framed by hanging bamboo poles that represent walls, or curtains. As the always-exciting dry ice coats the stage floor and a flock of indigo satin River Spirits appear to leap mischievously about, it’s clear we’re in for a spectacular experience. 

Celebrated local children’s theatre director Ben Crowder carries an energetic young all-Asian cast through a flamboyant adventure of wonder and surprise. There’s no confirmation of it in the programme but a media release advises that The Secret of Dongting Lake is based on a Chinese folk story. It certainly plays out in that classical form. 

Playwright Michelanne Forster weaves together a supernatural yarn concerning Chen Yang (Min Kim), a poor village peasant made good. On the way he encounters fearsome armies, Dragon spirits, a beautiful princess and a plethora of hilarious characters to impress and delight the largely waist-height audience. 

JJ Fong as Princess Lotus Flower is as strong-willed as she is beautiful. She and Kim are attractive and worthy heroes for the romantics in the crowd. 

The matriarch of the island in the middle of Dongting Lake is Lotus Flower’s mother, the proud and haughty Empress (Omer Gilroy). Her best friend and comedy sidekick Lady Wisteria (Yuri Kinugawa) is a most amusing sort of clown character, often frantic with confusion and not above physical violence. 

Other standouts among the excellent players are top acrobat Mitchell Kwan – whose main role Liang Xing is the unheralded hero of the story, given he concocted the miracle healing ointment with which Chen Yang curries favour with royalty – and Leand Macadaan as the pompous General Wong and the less warranted pompous leader of the prison rats. 

The whole ensemble brings all the energy and dynamism needed to serve the eventful tale, with sympathetic characters pitched at a level that ensures we are fully behind the underlying sentimentality. 

Philip Dexter’s sumptuous lighting design shines and dances on the charming set designed by Simon Coleman (as are presumably the splendidly opulent props). Sara Taylor also has something of a fairy-tale dream job creating about fifty-odd largely flamboyant costumes for a cast of twelve, over half of which play numerous roles.

The original composition and sound design of Andrew McMillan supports and augments the authentic folk-tale atmosphere both with elaborate orchestral soundtracks and simple percussive live tunes played to colourful dance routines, choreographed by Megan Adams. All these elements combine with entertaining characters, splendid acrobatic displays and a smattering of martial arts to produce a satisfying, accomplished exotic holiday treat for the family. 
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