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The Melbourne University Chinese Theatre Group’s production of The Physicists, directed by Shan Huang and Bauhinia Lam, presents a satirical view on the dangers of scientific development. Relying on subtitles in theatre was a new experience for me, and yet the charisma and strength of the cast ensured an entertaining and involving production.

On the whole, the production was entertaining, with strong performances and a tight and entertaining second act. The first act, however, seemed to lack the same pace and consistency that the second act brought. In general, the first acts of plays can suffer from this, tasked with setting the foundations of the plot and characters. In this case, however, some dialogue seemed to lack energy, and at times the exuberance of the acting was melodramatic, rather than satirical. Despite this, the second act undoubtedly rescued the play. Energy spiked, and the intentions and purpose of the play and characters became clear. Though I relied on projected subtitles to follow the play, the energy and charm of the cast managed to bridge this language gap, and ensured that the production remained entertaining and involving.

The performances were solid, with good comic timing and animation. The melodrama of the acting contributed to the satiric feel of the play. The dynamics between characters were particularly strong, and indeed the best performances occurred when groups of characters played off each other. Yuan Lu, Clarence Xie and Chang Su, as Newton, Möbius and Einstein respectively, gave particularly strong performances. The trio’s dynamics, especially in the play’s second act, were entertaining and comedic, and increased the audience’s investment in the characters. Alicia Li and Peng Peng, as Priest and Mrs Rose respectively, must also be mentioned for their comedic timing. Through the careful balance of melodrama and humour, their performances revitalised the first act of the play.

The set design – a romantically decorated psychiatrist’s office, which becomes stripped back and bare in the second act – was solid. It was no doubt a conservative and somewhat pedestrian interpretation of the set, but nonetheless managed to convey the themes of the play well. Similarly, the costume design, whilst conventional, clearly identified and reflected each character. However, as a play satirising the dangers of scientific advancement, The Physicists is, in a way, more relevant now than ever. While choosing to set the play in its original time period is a valid directorial choice, I do feel the production missed an opportunity to demonstrate the play’s relevance to the present day.

Overall, MUCTG presented a solid and entertaining rendition of The Physicists. While the choice to set the play in its original time period possibly prevented the play from being as relevant as it could have been, the strength of the cast and the tightness of the second act ensured the production was entertaining and enjoyable.

Matilda Millar-Carton

MUCTG’s production of The Physicists ran at the Open Stage Theatre from May 19th – 21st. 

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