Issue 8, Semester 2, 2019
Last Saturday evening, I went to see the Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Golden Shield, by Melbourne-raised writer Anchuli Felicia King. King is just twenty-five years old, and went to our very own UniMelb, so I took my seat in Southbank Theatre with a feeling of hopeful anticipation.
Based on real events, Golden Shield is a LEGAL DRAMA following two American sisters in their battle against Cisco Systems, an American tech company which had assisted in the Chinese government’s titular Golden Shield Project. The play skilfully explores a dynamic and interesting topic. King has deftly incorporated political and cultural dynamics into the legal drama framework, reinvigorating an otherwise-familiar scenario.
Structurally, the use of narration was adroit, the narrator a much-needed comedic foil to the almost universally serious characters. Witty and incisive, his commentary contained some insightful observations, accompanied at times by some clumsy exposition.
Also worthy of particular praise was The Sisters Hayes’ magnificent set, which subtly hinted at some of the broader implications of China’s digital surveillance state – themes I would have loved to have seen more substantively explored.
The plot in general kept the audience engaged throughout the two hours of substantive runtime. Scene changes were smooth, and the stage was properly utilised. The distinctly political flavour of the piece clicked with me personally (this justifies my political science degree, right?), and anticipation kept a firm hold of the audience’s guts throughout. However, one gets the impression that King has run afoul of her own insistence on thematic diversity. The multi-lined plot dragged in places, its gears clogged with overly-cute cultural observations, and trite conversations.
While these pacing issues might have been overcome, the play was let down at times by some lacklustre performances. The lead actor was an excellent choice for the part of soulless corporate lawyer, but seemed to have difficulty finding her rhythm in interactions involving her sister. This was a real shame, as their relationship is the nexus of the main plotline.
The majority of the cast performed well, Steve Mouzakis standing in admirably at short notice. Particularly worthy of recognition were the performances of Gabrielle Chan (Mei Huang), and Yi Jin (Li Dao), whose portrayal of the empty-nested Li family gave the play real emotional clout. Austere, but with an inseverable warmth between them, the Chinese dissident and his reluctant wife touched themes of loyalty, love, and identity.
All in all, the tenor of the play was interesting, and survived the slight hiccups mentioned above. I recommend taking a walk along St Kilda Road after a show, if you have the time, to distil down a lasting impression of the past few hours. For me, that impression was definitely positive. Here’s to hoping that King continues to develop her talent, and continues to do UniMelb proud.
Grimaldus is a First Year JD Student.