Golden Shield is the best thing from the MTC in years

By Frankey

Performed on opening night, Monday 12 August 2019

Southbank Theatre

To understand Golden Shield is to understand that “three monks have no water to drink.”

Pumped with playful legalese, Golden Shield focusses on the innocuous act of translation and challenges its audience to rethink the realities of modern communication. Although based prima facie on a turn of events preceding the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the involvement of a certain fictional enterprise with the Chinese Government, Golden Shield is, at its core, a play about identity and the barriers we construct to keep those closest to us at bay.

As China’s global influence rises, so too do our differences.

Golden Shield juxtaposes a slew of Chinese proverbs against Western aphorisms as a linguistic mechanism for contrasting “Chinese” and “Western” cultures. In one way, the story plays out in a circular fashion, flicking black and forth across the 2000s to embody the Chinese concept of “time”; there are no verb conjugations in Mandarin, for example (i.e. no past, present or future verbs). Satisfyingly, the writing does well to explain these ideas without appearing too preachy. Characters tussle out of fabled conundrums to illustrate the point more often than spelling things out (although, a certain flirtation scene is particularly guilty of this).

There is no shortage of provocation aimed towards the audience, provided you listen.

In spite of the mammoth differences, it’s the similarities that make Golden Shield relatable.
To this end, the concept of “love” arises. While many languages have many words for love, English and Mandarin share one word to encompass all forms: love and 爱. Many of the show’s characters exhibit and consume a spectrum of love between themselves: from the filial, or lack thereof, to the romantic, and to the patriotic. All portrayed convincingly across the stage.
It is an impressive feat that by the end of the show, audiences learn to understand that to realise that ‘three monks have no water to drink’ is to realise how much of our modern society is a product of our inherent human complacency.

Character performances are outstanding

Jing-Xuan Chan stands out as a tortured Eva Chen, struggling with the personal vindication of her lifestyle and the external judgment of her sister, Julia Chen, played with ample vigour by Fiona Choi. Josh McConville channels the arrogant gusto of Tom Cruise’s Les Grossman (see: Tropic Thunder) to deliver the appropriate villain of the story. Sophie Ross is downright chameleon-like in her ability to play two characters in both a cut-throat corporate lawyer and a typical Thornbury-dwelling associate. And Yuchen Wang, while certainly a little rougher around the edges than his experienced counterparts, accomplishes a successful feature as the translator holding and binding a lot of the story’s development, speaking almost exclusively in soliloquy.

In Golden Shield, Anchuli Felicia King has crafted the ultimate inaugural introduction to her truly venerable ability. This is, undoubtedly, the most considered, complex, sensical, and engaging story to come out of the MTC in a very long time.

Header image courtesy of Melbourne Theatre Company

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