facebook play-alt chevron-thin-right chevron-thin-left cancel location info chevron-thin-down star-full help-with-circle calendar images mail whatsapp directions_car directions_bike train directions_walk directions_bus close spinner11

Wild Swans

First Published 23 April 2012, Last Updated 23 April 2012

How can you take 30 years of turbulent history, three generations of a family, a 700-page book, and stage it in 90 minutes? An incredible, morphing Miriam Buether-designed set is certainly a good start.

Jung Chang’s biographical book Wild Swans has been read by 87% of the world’s population and 5% of the known universe. Okay, those statistics might not be entirely accurate, but if you haven’t read the tale of 20th century China, you know someone who has. Its success as a non-fiction publication is very nearly Biblical, literally.

Buether’s set, like the story, moves from a bustling market place of 1948 to a bustling marketplace of 1978, through farmland, paddy fields and homes. Its post box design hides secrets more efficiently than a corrupt government official and each scene change is like a work of art or mini-play in itself.

To say too much more would risk stealing the growing sense of wonder I enjoyed from future audiences, but I will say that just when you think the set has nothing left to give, it reveals something new.

Coming to Wild Swans as one of the few warm-blooded mammals of earth to have not read the book – though it is sitting on a shelf, waiting patiently – I have no idea how much has been cut or how infuriating purists might find this. I imagine ‘a lot’ is the answer to both.

Most of the stage tale focuses on De-Hong – the middle generation of three – and her turbulent life during the rise of Communism, as she moves from the most committed of party members to discovering the reality of the situation, and the ongoing battle between her principles and her life and family. The back story of her mother is cleverly, and swiftly, told through a propaganda puppet story, while the trials of her daughter’s are most effective at shedding light on her own story.

In fact, it might even be possible to argue that on stage Wild Swans becomes less about three women and more about one man, De Hong’s husband, Shou-Yu, whose staunch commitment to his Communist beliefs and ideals, rather than the party itself, are the catalyst for destruction, both in his life and that of his family. The scenes in which actor Orion Lee struggles with this persistent problem are the most compelling of the whole piece.

Wild Swans is the first production of World Stages London, a capital-wide season of shows bringing eight London theatres together with 12 UK and international companies to tell global stories. It is a season both epic and ambitious, like Wild Swans. While this opening production at the Young Vic may not be perfect, its moments of gut-wrenching, Sophie’s Choice-esque decision making have lodged in my heart, and I would watch it again in a flash just for the treat of Buether’s transforming set.


Sign up

Related articles

If you click through to seat selection (where you'll see either best available or a seating plan), you will be seeing the most up-to-date prices. If this differs from what we've written on the calendar, please bear with us, as those prices will update soon.

We now sell our famous TKTS Booth discounts online here at Official London Theatre.

We are now cancelling all performances up until and including 31 May 2020 to help us process existing bookings whilst we wait for further clarity from the government in terms of when we will be able to reopen.

We are so sorry that in these testing and difficult times you are not able to enjoy the show you have booked for and hope the following helps clarify next steps in respect of your tickets .

There is nothing that you need to do if your performance has been cancelled, but we do ask for your patience.

If you have booked directly with the theatre or show website for an affected performance, please be assured that they will contact you directly to arrange an exchange for a later date, a credit note/voucher or a refund. If you have booked via a ticket agent they will also be in contact with you directly.

We are processing in strict date order of performance, so you are likely to be contacted after the date you were due to go to the theatre. However, we want to reassure you that you will be contacted, and your order will be processed, but please do bear with us.

We’d like to thank everyone who has been patient and kind in dealing with their ticket providers so far and we are sorry that we cannot process your order as quickly as we would like.

Please do not contact your credit card company as that will slow the process down and put an additional burden on our box office and ticket agent teams.

In order for us to serve our audiences the best we can, please do not get in touch with your point of sale if you have booked for performances after 31 May. Please be reassured that if we have to cancel future performances you will be directly contacted by your theatre or ticket provider. Our producers continue to plan for all eventualities dependent on the individual needs of their shows and we will provide further updates on specific shows as and when they become available.

We look forward to welcoming you back into our theatres as soon as we are allowed to resume performances. In the meantime stay safe and healthy.

While theatres are currently closed, various venues and productions are making announcements for their individual shows, including cancellations and rescheduled performances. Please check with the individual shows for details.