Shangri-La @ The Finborough Theatre Review

Mindfulness and meditation, two constructs that have erupted within contemporary culture, but have you ever considered the roots of both practices and the place of origin? Shangri-La, is a play that explores the place rather than the myth, empathetic considering impact and circumstance of mass tourism. Situated in the Himalayan foothills of China’s Yunnan Province, officially renamed ‘Shangri-La’ in a successful bid for the tourist dollar, this play provokes disequilibrium highlighting conflict and anger.

Shangri-La

‘Bunny, a young indigenous woman, has witnessed her family’s livelihood destroyed by mass tourism. She dreams of escape — as a globe-trotting photographer. Nelson, her liberal Chinese boss, dreams of a new kind of tourism that’s sustainable and enables genuine cultural exchange. Their white Western clients yearn for escape, for the touch of something authentic.’

In this debut play written by Amy Ng, directed by Charlotte Westenra, Amy impresses with her loaded script, oozing with recognisable characters, comedy moments and insight into a culture that is new to the stage. In a bid to question “what happens when the only thing you have to sell is your culture?” and ‘when the only way to free yourself is to betray your roots?”, Shangri-La presents an internal tension where culture, tradition and religion is challenged. With a play text based on personal experiences, playwright Amy Ng evaluates the importance of self-expression, whilst demonstrating the private pain of cultural tourism.

Acting naturalistically, this four actor cast gets to the heart of their characters intentions, hopes and desires. Julia Sandiford brings Bunny, our central protagonist to life in a fluctuating dual of naivety and ambition, whereas Kevin Shen presents a business forward persona, who interacts in a gentle demeanour. This is juxtaposed by Andrew Koji’s, Karma who is somewhat frantic, oppressive and overpowering, symbolising the deceitful turns in order to screw money off the westerner. Lastly, Rosie Thomson multi rolling as the hedge fund superior, who is searching for the moment of enlightenment and Irish, photographer Hope who convinces the headstrong Bunny to follow her dreams, provoking “would you cross the line for a perfect photo?”.

In this world premiere, Shangri-La is playing at the Finborough Theatre until 6th August and is a show to go see. It evaluates the stakes of mass tourism and how it can make or break a culture, a tradition, a place. It encapsulates the extremes of tourism, presenting in essence how tourism can be the underpinning or unravelling of a culture. Incorporating the use of technical effects including smoke machines, Gobo lighting effects, projection and soundscape soundtracks, this production immerses you within the culture. However, this could be pushed further, characterising its audience as the invading force of mass tourists could be an exciting opportunity for this show, after all we are the ones that take weekend mediation classes and colour mindful patterns.

A thematically engaged show, it demonstrates culture, strength and identity. Shangri-La, is a production that bursts with authenticity, highlighting a narrative that is new, fresh and vibrant. With a few directional and character tweaks this show could be unmissable, at the moment its layered accents can be confusing to any audience member. But this show is undeniably relevant and central to contemporary civilisation. I leave the theatre desiring a mediation session whilst questioning the heritage and culture of said practice. 3.5/5

Review written by Meg Mattravers.

Shangri-La is currently showing at the Finborough Theatre until Saturday 6th August. For more information on the production, visit here…

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