4 stars ****
C (Venue 34)
IN A RARE final-week treat on the Fringe, the National Theatre of China arrives in Chambers Street with a brief 90-minute version of what began, last year, as a five-hour theatrical epic presented on some of the largest stages in China. Based on the legend of the Green Snake – and featuring a strong element of Scottish collaboration, with a magical score by Edinburgh-based composer David Paul Jones – the show tells the story of two ancient snake-spirits, white and green, who decide to try to become human; the white snake because she yearns for love, and the green – well, because she just wants to have fun.
So what emerges, as the story unfolds, is something quite different from the chldren’s show perhaps conjured up by the title; a slinky, playful and erotic love-story about how one snake finds her human partner and gives birth to a human son, while the other does her level best to create mayhem among all the men she meets, including the stiff-necked and impervious Abbot Of The Golden Temple.
The costumes are gorgeous, the light sparkling, the floods and disasters that were staged in full in China conjured up by subtle projected images; the eight-strong acting company – six men, two fabulous women – are simply superb, funny, elegant, delicate, wise, and seductive. At its deepest level, this ancient story invites us to consider the thrill and the tragedy implicit in our efforts to become something other than we are; the snakes want to be human, the humans strive for the perfection of Buddha, and in both cases they are likely to fail. Yet the white snake’s love for her human husband carries her to the very brink of success; and the green snake too, in the end, finds that she now has more human love in her heart than some of the men she meets, on her long journey through the centuries.