Live Review – Nixon in China

18.02.2020, Theatre Royal, dir. John Fulljames

The much-anticipated opera ‘Nixon in China’ certainly did not disappoint on the night of its performance in Glasgow. Whilst the plot was ostensibly about Nixon’s propaganda visit to China in 1972, underlying themes such as the role of the media, official visits and public affairs, the process of history-making, made it relevant to us today. Indeed, the witty integration of photos of current statesmen and women, notably Nicola Sturgeon next to Boris Johnson, directly drawing parallels to Nixon’s visit to China drew some of the biggest laughs of the night.

Walking out of the Theatre Royal I simply could not stop commenting on the stunning and remarkably intelligent staging of the show. The foundation was simple: huge wire shelves that almost reached the ceiling filled with cardboard boxes, denoting an archive. Yet the creative use of projectors, light, movement of the immense shelves, and taking out and piling the card board boxes made the stage come alive. In particular the use of projections was ingenious, as it overlayed the events on stage with documents, photographs, and newspapers from the 1970s and today, providing an extra layer of commentary to an already rich text/performance. The inclusion of dancers, who performed stunningly, was a successful feat. They added symbolism and motion to what could otherwise easily have become a fairly static performance.

Adding to the staging, the music itself was central to the night’s gravitas, as it was able to invoke the power of the two states and underlying tensions as they met and created a veneer of détente. Indeed, the admittedly long performance kept my attention as each scene worked to slowly erode this mirage as each gave us a more personal insight into the events, outside of the press’ gaze.

Moreover, the cast/ensemble itself was key to pulling it all together. In particular the brilliant performances of Hye-Youn Lee as Madame Mao Tse-tung and Julia Sporsen (accent on the e) as Pat Nixon stood out.

The opera ‘Nixon in China’ was a stunning and thought-provoking piece of art that was marked by the ingenuity in all elements of the show. I can only recommend it. 

[Kirsty Campbell – she/her- @KirstyCampbell3]

[Photo credit: Scottish Opera]

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