The World of Extreme Happiness

Blogger Event at The Shed, National Theatre, 14th October 2013
By Martin Sarreal

Over the past 9 months, what is seemingly a sudden influx of productions centred around themes of East Asian culture (“Chimerica”, “The Arrest of Ai Weiwei”, “Yellowface”, “The Golden Child” and “The Fu Manchu Complex”) were opening in London within a span of months—and in some cases—weeks apart from one another. Most of these productions prominently featured East Asian writers and actors depicting stories that were not only relevant to the community, but also provided a number of discussion points for the general British theatre goers. A great recent example of this would be “The World of Extreme Happiness”, playing at The Shed in the National Theatre. Written by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig and directed by Michael Longhurst, “The World of Extreme Happiness” tells the story of Sunny, a young girl born and raised in rural China hoping to provide a better life both for her family and herself in the big city. Through out the play, we witness the numerous obstacles Sunny has to face—from being an unwanted child left to die because of her gender, to the prejudices all migrant workers face from those living in the city, set in a post-June Fourth China where social and economic transitions are rapidly taking place in the country.

The play opened on the 25th September 2013 to rave reviews, many critics praising the play’s fascinating and fearless portrayal of contemporary China. Accompanying their performance last Monday evening, Shades of Noir was graciously invited by the National Theatre to attend their first blogger event at The Shed. With an intimate post performance Q&A, bloggers from different disciplines were given the opportunity to speak to the cast and crew about makings of the production, as well as the many hard-hitting subjects that the play touches upon. Speaking about the play’s role in relation to the ethos of The Shed, director Michael Longhurst noted that the experimental nature in their depiction of the text was a perfect fit for this particular performance space. With the production’s portrayal of oppression and disappointment, the intimate nature of The Shed was seen by those involved as liberating rather than a hindrance. From the large neon-coloured, bass-thumping spectacle that makes up Mr. Destiny’s self improvement class, to the bare, stripped down moments between Sunny and her brother Pete towards the play’s finale, the space of The Shed provided plenty of room that allowed the production to be larger than life and up close and personal at the same time. Speaking about the close proximity between the audience and the stage, cast member Daniel York noted that the space not only further enhanced the dramatic context to the forefront, but also helped depict the claustrophobic nature of life in modern day China. Given that the perspective of a Chinese migrant worker takes centre stage, the play often touches upon the unjust treatment of the working class and questions the conditions the Chinese authority has built around them. When asked about the reaction the production has received so far, the cast informs us that the response, especially those from the Mainland Chinese community has been overwhelming. Many were moved by the honesty portrayed, commending the truthfulness depicted behind the life that many, like Sunny and her family, still face in their home country today.

As part of the bloggers event, Shades of Noir was given the opportunity by The Shed to take a closer look into the set of “The World of Extreme Happiness”, helmed by designer Chloe Lamford. The stage design both depicts the artificial optimism of the city and the muted reality of rural life into one singular space. Both of these visual components make up the surroundings that the characters of this play find themselves being drawn to and are often at odds with. Photos of the stage design can be found below.

Shades of Noir wishes to give a special thanks to Susie Newbery and the team at the National Theatre for their gracious invitation.

“The World of Extreme Happiness” ends this Saturday, 26th October, 2013.
For tickets, please click on this link:
http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/the-world-of-extreme-happiness