The RSC is offering something a little different this season: an adaptation of an ancient Chinese classic (Guan Hanqing’s 13th-century The Injustice Done to Dou E), performed in the Swan Theatre. Snow in Midsummer is written by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig and directed by Justin Audibert. It is a ghost story, drawing on the Chinese tradition of the ‘hungry ghost’ who demands justice. In a hugely positive move, the cast is made up of East Asian actors – no whitewashing here.
Young widow Dou Yi (Katie Leung) is executed for murder, but claims that as proof of her innocence, snow will fall in midsummer and there will be a drought for three years. It is towards the end of this three years that Tianyun (Wendy Kweh), a successful businesswoman, enters the town of New Harmony accompanied by her adopted daughter Fei-Fei, hoping to buy up the factory. But she has a complicated past, and it isn’t long before her daughter becomes caught up in Dou-Yi’s plans for revenge. Meanwhile, local entrepreneur Handsome Zhang (Colin Ryan) is celebrating his engagement to Rocket Wu (Andrew Leung), but has secrets of his own too.
I found the play absorbing and unpredictable, even shocking at times. The combination of an ancient story with a modern setting really worked for me, and I found it incredibly successful. It has a lot to say about the importance of justice. Strong performances come from all of the leads, particularly Katie Leung whose sympathetic portrayal of Dou Yi allows us to root for her even as we are horrified at her actions.
Snow in Midsummer is the first offering from the RSC as part of their Chinese Classics Translations Project. I’m excited about the potential of this project and I will definitely be up for seeing more such works.