Slippery Mountain – Not So Loud Chinese Opera Company – New World Restaurant, London

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Three weeks ago I read in the Metro that there was a Chinese opera being performed in a restaurant in Chinatown, with dim sum and tea served beforehand. And it was only an hour long! While the price seemed a bit steep (£25), it sounded to me like a great night out and I snapped up for tickets (for me, J, W, and my fellow Sinophile Mel) right away.

The restaurant (New World) had a great upstairs space with a large area cleared out for the show. We took our seats and were immediately given our snacks. Sadly, we weren’t given any sort of plates, just a round steaming dish with 1 shu mai, 1 egg roll, and 1 steamed fluffy pork bun in it. Hmm – a bit tight for the price. I was also grumpy to notice they’d got a two for one deal going that I missed out on by buying early. At the very least if I’d been aware of it I probably could have convinced a few more people to attend. We also got some other food (lamb pancakes, pork and cashew nuts, and chicken on crunchy fried noodles) to round it out, and the food was good even though we had to ask to get plates.

Our cast consisted of three demons (or monks, depending on the scene), our hero Mulian, his mom, Mulian’s tutor and stand-in demon fighter, and a woman sword specialist. The plot was, er, rather non-Western: Mulian is sent by his Buddhist superior to deal with his mother in hell, where she is about to spend eternity trying to climb Slippery Mountain to make up for her shortcomings during her lifetime (fornication while a nun being apparently a big no-no). Most of the scenes take place in hell, where the three demons sing cheerily about chopping up, burning, and torturing the souls that come their way. Their scenes allowed for a lot of vernacular dialogue, referring (for example) to “Asbos” and “insulting the Olympic torch” (the second a reason for extreme punishment). I found this all reminiscent of Panto and a good deal of fun. The dialogue was mostly in English, but Mulian’s mom spoke exclusively in Opera extreme Mandarin (I could almost follow along) and Mulian’s teacher spoke frequently in Mandarin, but for both of them, the “chorus” of demons/monks helped us follow along. Mulian’s mom’s arias were all in Chinese, but for these we had a sheet to help us follow along (as it were) and the action on stage was very helpful in demonstrating what was being said.

The show itself was not of the highest production quality, but to be honest I wasn’t expecting this in such a short production. The highlight was a battle between Mulian’s teacher and the demon swordswoman, who went head to head in staff versus double sword action. It was a blast. I was a bit sorry we didn’t get any acrobatics, but it was a small space, and hopefully I’ll get to see some this summer when the Peony Pavillion comes to town. Overall it was a good night out, and my greatest complaint was that I wished I’d had a little more tea – being able to sip a hot cup of Jasmine tea while watching a show has got to be one of the most pleasant theatrical experiences I’ve had in a long time, but our pot was long emptied before the show started up and the staff didn’t seem to want to come by the tables to refill, empty, or do anything else once they’d served up.

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