Happy Year of the Sheep! I know I’m a bit late, but today I finally saw in the Chinese New Year with my fourth and final theatre trip of the week, to see Yeh Shen at Wimbledon’s Polka Theatre.
The show, from theatre company Yellow Earth, is based on the oldest known version of the Cinderella story, and features an incredibly hard-working cast of six, along with several puppets and a multitude of musical instruments all played by the talented Joanna Zenghui Qiu. The result is a colourful and entertaining re-telling of a story that’s familiar in essence, but with a few significant differences. For instance, there are no fairy godmothers in this tale; instead there’s a fish, a horse, a cat and a dragon, not to mention a helpful ancestral spirit. And there’s only one step-sister, who’s far from ugly (although, as one younger audience member pointed out quite audibly, she is a bit crazy).
Yeh Shen is, first and foremost, a show for children, and has no difficulty in holding the young audience spellbound, but there’s plenty in there for adults too. Like the best children’s fiction, the script contains an added level of humour for the grown-ups that largely passes over the kids’ heads – which is possibly a good thing in some cases (foot fetish, anyone?). Today, the show was followed by a Q&A with the writer, director and cast, and it was lovely to see so many children stay to ask questions, and then jump up on stage afterwards to take a closer look at the puppets and talk to the actors.
This is a really fun show for children and adults alike, combining puppetry, music, dance and comedy to bring the story of Yeh Shen to life. It does have its darker moments, like many traditional fairy tales, but they’re handled carefully so as not to be too scary for the younger audience members.
Yellow Earth are performing Yeh Shen on tour around the country until Easter, so if you get a chance, check them out. No need to bring a child with you; I went with two friends from work, and besides feeling obliged to slump in our seats so as not to block anyone’s view, we had a great time. Of course, it helped that the Polka Theatre is adorable – it’s got rocking horses, a teddy bear exhibition and a café with booths that look like train carriages. I don’t remember theatres being like that when I was little.