Madam Mao tells the story of Jiang Qing, the final wife of Chairman Mao Zedong, who became the first First Lady of China. She played a fundamental part in China’s Cultural Revolution using her background in film and theatre to stage propaganda works in order to alter China’s political and cultural views. Upon Chairman Mao’s death, Jiang Qing was arrested and charged for crimes against humanity during the Revolution. Azure River’s production playing at this year’s SummerWorks Festival offers a glimpse into Jiang Qing’s life during her 15 years in prison.
There’s a lot of history and politics involved in mounting a production like this. It’s unnerving — is this show only going to speak to those who have studied Chinese history and the Revolution? How can it be made accessible to a much broader audience?
The way the team at Azure River has tackled these challenges is to shift the focus from the political aspect and more on Jiang Qing’s idealistic views and desire for power. Jiang Qing was once considered the most powerful and feared woman in the world, seeing her justify her actions and then later be forced to search for humility makes for a compelling story.
Janet Lo does remarkable work portraying Jiang Qing, delivering her story with fervor and fire in her eyes. Being locked away for 15 years in solitary confinement takes a unique toll on a person’s psyche and Lo captured that caged and observed rat feeling well. When Lo delivers Jiang Qing’s lines, especially when she addresses the Chinese people in her mind, she does so with the triumph and gumption of a true politician. In ways I’m reminded of Evita, less the musical aspect and more so the drive behind a female political power.
But it was Samantha Wan who played the Sergeant sent to question Jiang Qing and ultimately take down her confession who truly stole the show. Her interrogation skills are properly intimidating and the silent rage she builds just beneath the surface of her character resonates throughout the audience. She also plays double duty – when Wan isn’t the Sergeant, she plays memories from Jiang Qing’s past in elegant dance and martial art motifs under the guise of a Trickster spirit. The amount of effort that this very physically demanding work takes on Wan is etched on her face but she soldiers on.
Madam Mao is a performance that is rich with purpose and resonance that has the power to leave an audience stunned silent. It’s certainly worth experiencing at SummerWorks this year.
Madame Mao plays at the Theatre Centre Incubator (1115 Queen Street West).
Sunday August 10, 5:00pm
Monday August 11, 7:00pm
Wednesday August 13, 8:00pm
Thursday August 14, 4:30pm
Saturday August 16, 3:30pm
Sunday August 17, 2:30pm
All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online, By phone by calling the Ticketwise Call Centre at 416-907-0468, in person at the SummerWorks Info Booth – located at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West) August 5th-17th from 10AM – 7PM (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee).
Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.
Photo provided by the company.