The Golden Dragon
Arcola Theatre, London E8
Opened 2 September, 2011

I found myself in fairly heated debate online with a British East Asian blogger who was alleging that, by not casting any Asian actors in his production of The Golden Dragon, director Ramin Gray was being racist.  (As is all too often the case, this attribution of motive and attitude took place without the blogger in question actually having seem the production.)  She complained, “They chose a Chinese setting to what, represent the ‘Other’?”  The entire point of Roland Schimmelpfennig’s play is to investigate perceptions of otherness – in particular, racism – which is precisely why the five-strong cast play characters that differ from themselves not only in ethnicity but age, gender and even species.

To a suggestion that Chinese actors were “required” by the production since a Chinese setting and characters were similarly “required” (although the likelihood is that, in the German context in which Schimmelpfennig is writing, the “Chinese” figures are more likely to be Vietnamese), it seemed to me that all the arguments about “requirements” re Chinese characters apply equally to the majority of the characters being ethnic German yet “defined” by British actors.  They apply equally to the “requirements” of gender. And as for the characters of the ant and the cricket...!  Obviously that’s a reductio ad absurdum.  But what, then, is it that privileges or prioritises Chinese ethnicity as a requirement here above other portrayals in the same text and production?  I don’t think there is anything.  I think that’s the point.  And, once again, I do think that watching the production is really a minimum requirement when claiming to know why someone else has made this kind of decision.

Written for Theatre Record.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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