Review: The Sugar-Coated Bullets Of The Bourgeoisie Is Overdone And Underwhelming

The Sugar-Coated Bullets Of The Bourgeoisie, Arcola Theatre ★★☆☆☆

By Savannah Whaley Last edited 22 months ago
Review: The Sugar-Coated Bullets Of The Bourgeoisie Is Overdone And Underwhelming The Sugar-Coated Bullets Of The Bourgeoisie, Arcola Theatre 2
Photo by Nobby Clark of Stephen Hoo, Siu Hun Li and Rebecca Boey.

Anders Lustgarten’s ambitious new play throws light on modern-day China by looking back to its past. Unfortunately, what could be an epic drama fails to excite and feels more like a history lesson than a piece of theatre.

We can't deny it's an ambitious project. Lustgarten’s play begins in Rotten Peach, a small rural village in China, in 1949. Following its residents’ experiences of life during and after the revolution, the characters fight to get their ideologies heard whilst adjusting to life in Chairman Mao’s Communist state.

In act two we are brazenly catapulted into contemporary China: Lily Arnold’s design creates a stark and effective contrast between the two time frames. Present-day Shanghai is full of loud music, flashing lights and even flashier outfits.

A few digs at the British public transport system, George Osborne’s ineptitude, and a wry allusion to the Panama Papers leak gets laughs from the audience — Lustgarten, and the performers, create a far more engaging contemporary world than they do the world of 60 years ago.

Unfortunately the performances are not consistently strong enough to be stirring, even at moments that should be emotionally intense — the death of a character through starvation, or the betrayal of a loyal and idealistic revolutionary by her supposed friends.

The whole thing feels overdone and underwhelming; moments of song and ceremony are let down by the quality of the singing, and there’s the odd sub-plot that feels frankly laughable (a sudden, and entirely undeveloped, love affair between two female characters tacked on at the end, for example).

Lustgarten’s scope is too broad; too much time is spent explaining party doctrine and not enough developing convincing relationships that inspire emotion in the audience.

Having said that, the Chairman Mao impersonation competition is a hilarious conceit, and very well executed — that's one competition we'd love to see in real life.

The Sugar-Coated Bullets of the Bourgeoisie runs at The Arcola until 30 April, tickets £10-£19. Londonist saw this show on a complementary ticket.

Last Updated 14 April 2016