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Preview: Fallen Flowers (落花飞絮)

A lament for victims of marriage trafficking, based on true stories in China


“Revealing, bold and poignant,” Fallen Flowers premieres in the Corpus Playroom this week, providing audiences with a valuable education in Chinese socio-political issues whilst simultaneously retaining the authenticity and beauty of the culture.

I had the absolute delight of speaking with both the writer, Yasi Zhu, and the director, Isabella Ren, aiming to get to grips with how they plan on bringing their vision to life.

Inspired by the issue of marriage trafficking in her home country, Yasi’s desire to quash Chinese stereotypes and the depiction of oriental culture in the media has been met with an intricate incorporation of traditional symbolism and folklore.

Image credits: Isaac Tan

With each character represented by a flower with special symbolic significance in Chinese culture, this play hones in on the lives of four women, each with differing social backgrounds, ethnicities and time periods, yet who share the same trauma. The unveiling of their tragic memories to the audience is beautifully coupled with classical poems, traditional dance and music.

Whilst this did provide a challenge to the directorial team in making the content more accessible to a wider Cambridge audience, Isabella describes her aim of embodying these themes “visually and musically,” enabling the audience to access the story without “feeling bombarded by references they may not have understood.” Soundscapes and music have been adopted to create an immersive, multi-sensory experience. This provides a unique perspective – we no longer play the role of “an outsider looking in,” but are instead able to access social issues alien to us, allowing us to ponder the misogynistic aspects of Chinese society and wonder where the root of this crime actually lies.

This is particularly pertinent to the issue of marriage trafficking. Yasi explained how although a lot of people who come to see the play may not know about this multi-layered matrix of abuse, bringing the issue to life in theatrical form leaves a lasting impression. The intimate environment of the Corpus Playroom only aids this tone – the attempt at social education through the personal medium of theatre breeds discussion and raises awareness. Being visually exposed and able to physically witness such struggles not only humanises these characters, but brings the issue (literally) closer to home.

Image credits: Isabella Ren

I was fortunate enough to also be able to be provided with the cast members’ outlook on the play.

Gabrielle Kurniawan (playing the role of Nan Nan) revealed the relatability of her character. Her “striking sincerity and determination” is something appreciated by us all, especially those of us caught in the liminality of childhood and adulthood. Gabrielle remarks on “the way [Nan Nan] draws strength and guidance from the other characters,” with this providing a great interpretation of the coming-of-age struggle, whilst also perfectly mirroring the central theme of the play.

Jacinta Ngeh‘s portrayal of Li Juan sits in stark contrast to Nan Nan. Her forced silence is overcome by the provision of a voice – this becomes incredibly powerful “in a situation where real women are living lives analogous to Li Juan’s – only by speaking about such injustice will there be an incentive to finally break the violent cycle of strange tides.” 

Image credits: Isaac Tan

The theme of awareness is therefore pivotal to this play. Both Isabella and Yasi assert the importance of bearing witness to social issues and being aware of the struggles witnessed; this is the first step on the way to social change. Why not spend but an hour of your time listening to and learning what the Chinese country and culture are actually about?

Fallen Flowers thus promises not only to be an incredible expression of society and culture, but is also an incredibly important story about bravery and confrontation of prejudices embedded in societal order. The play is rich with significance and passion, enabling the audience to become immersed in poignant issues that are alien to a Western audience.

Fallen Flowers is showing in the Corpus Playroom from the 22nd – 25th of February at 9:30 pm. Get your tickets here.