When Bob told us we should book tickets for a show called Shen Yun I had no idea he was involved in Cult Collection. Possibly he didn’t either. The fact that he was adamant we’d enjoy it should have been a clear signal, after all, isn’t that how most cults work? They hook the victim with promises of great things then, suddenly, before you know it, the grim reality strikes as your wallet is emptied and your brain washed.
Before I go on, and in an attempt to temper this somewhat scathing post, here’s a photo of the puppies in their new, favourite spot.
But that’s it for pleasantries…
To be fair to Bob, I don’t think he knows what Shen Yun is beyond a very colourful display of Chinese dance. And, to be even further fair, that is what the ads seem to imply. It all looks very pretty, exciting and something we’d like to see. It’s the sort of thing we’d definitely hurry along to in Beijing, for instance. Though Shen Yun is never likely to perform in China and the dance style is decidedly a mix between east and west.
The thing is, the company appears to be, basically, a front for a religious group called Falun Gong (aka Falun Dafa) which hates atheists, evolution and the Chinese Communist Party. Had I known this, I would have not booked tickets. I mean how far away from hating atheists is just hating the Real World? Or how far is denial of evolution from the 12th century? Okay, I can live with someone having a problem with the Communist Party in China.
So, ignorant of the facts, I bought two tickets and tonight we went.
While the entire premise of an attempted indoctrination is pretty awful, it was only exacerbated by the fact that the performance was taking place in Hammersmith about which they blatantly lied by claiming it was in London. I prove this assertion by the simple fact that when I go to London it takes me just over an hour. Going to Hammersmith, however, takes double that. It takes even longer than going to Canary Wharf.
I think a lot of people try and claim London as a location, particularly when they wish to mask the fact that it takes an age and 347 changes of transport options. I guess one could drive but I really have no idea where you’d park outside Hammersmith tube station…which is another thing. There are two Hammersmith tube stations which is nothing but confusing.
So, naturally, I was squeezed in with the other poor saps who do it every day, something I could be grateful for at least. And, for reasons only know to TFL, Google and other online apps, I took the Jubilee Line to Green Park and had the marathon change over to the Piccadilly Line.
This is always awful and best avoided, particularly at peak hour. Why, oh, why didn’t any of the apps suggest taking the Northern Line to Embankment then the District Line to Hammersmith? It’s a pity I’m never going back to Hammersmith because this is a much better option and now I’ll never have to use it.
(I think I depend far too much on my phone because I know about the Piccadilly Changeover at Green Park Issue having run into it before. I think my phone is destroying my memory to some extent. Maybe this is a thing that needs research.)
Anyway, while I was battling to breathe through the squishing on the tube, Mirinda had a leisurely ferry ride from Embankment to Putney then a short bus ride up to the theatre. She texted to say she’d arrived, just as I did. We then joined the queue to get in.
Another reason I’ll never be going back to the Apollo at Hammersmith is the security nonsense. I mean, seriously. Is this what we’ve come to as a society? At the Apollo, we had to put up with the indignities of removing all metal, handing over our walking sticks and be shuffled through a metal detector just because isolated arseholes might (and it has to be a big might) decide to kill a theatre full of people?
There was even the seemingly pointless exercise of Water Container Replacement.
Mirinda had a plastic bottle of water with her which the guard took and said it had to be poured out into a plastic cup then handed back to her. That was annoying enough (apart from swapping one plastic receptacle for another) but then, seemingly ridiculously, he offered her the bottle back. I have no idea why this happened. Glass bottles and cans I understand but clear plastic bottles? If he was concerned with the contents, he only had to ask her to drink some, surely.
Anyway, we managed to get through. As I was retrieving my possessions I noticed the person behind me. She was heavily pregnant so the guard let her through without going through the metal detector. At least she LOOKED heavily pregnant. How did he know? (It just shows what bullshit it is. Why do we have to pander to the isolated morons in society?)
Mind you, I should say that all the security bods were pleasant and cheerful, which helped. A tiny bit.
But enough of the security, even though it was very obvious and quite full on. On the Tube on the way back Mirinda read a piece about how the Chinese Communist Party apparently tries to disrupt performances so maybe it’s to guard against that. It seems very heavy handed if you ask me. Mind you, I’m never going again so it doesn’t really matter.
The first thing you see when you step into the theatre is a very big sign on the front curtain. This instruction is yelled at the audience regularly and distinctly. No-one in the theatre could be in any doubt as to the policy regarding the taking of photographs.
It should have rung alarm bells in my head when it was announced that we couldn’t take photographs because of copyright. The Chinese have no concept of copyright so it had to be a western directive. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like people taking photographs during performances as I find it quite distracting and I’m sure the performers do too. Still, I only need to be told once.
Something that had absolutely nothing to do with Shen Yun was the fact that I had managed to sit directly behind two giant heads, one in front of the other. Normally one giant head is bad enough but when you have two, one in front of the other, the second giant head tends to lean to one side effectively blocking the vision of the poor, helpless sap behind them both…which was me.
But, I need to get on to the performance because that was what we were there for.
Can I just start by saying I found the American MC really, really annoying? Mirinda claimed it was because he was, well American and she knows how I feel but I think it was more his voice and attitude. He sounded awfully condescending. His female, Chinese speaking, co-presenter was fine. Perhaps she was there to make him a little more palatable.
Possibly my favourite piece of the night – the whole show is like a concert – was the one that involved Monkey, Pigsy, Sandy and Tripitaka. Mind you, why they made Sandy an ogre is beyond me. Okay, I know he was made ugly because of the incident with the Queen Mother of the West’s goblet but calling him an ogre implies he was always one. Even so, I thought it was excellent with wit, action and the joy of watching familiar characters in an unfamiliar setting.
My other favourite didn’t involve dance at all. It was a performance of a Chinese instrument called an erhu. It was played by Qin Lu who managed to create some beautiful music from something that appears to consist of a bow, a piece of wood, two strings and a small metal bucket.
Everything, however, was set in sharp relief when we were treated to the most extraordinary piece regarding the religious persecution of Falun Gong. It was quite brutal and horrific. If true, it’s awful. There were two pieces, the second finishing when a god-like being descended from heaven to make everything better. Which only makes me wonder why this god-like being doesn’t just make the communists go away for real.
I think the thing I disliked most was the heavy handedness of the whole thing. It smacked of an American hand similar to the western version of Chinese food. The worship and exercise based Falun Gong might be fine and meditative in the original but once it’s had it’s network American makeover, it’s somehow ghastly and something to run away from. I was reminded of Scientology.
And the music was all very samey which, I guess, is all part of the brain washing process.
Possibly the highlight of the evening was convincing Mirinda to catch the Tube back to central (or ‘real’ as I call it) London from where she managed to catch the final ferry back to the flat. Okay, there was one moment when we sat at the red signal outside Earl’s Court (like the train always does because of the line crossing) but otherwise she just told me all about Falun Gong and the controversy that is Shen Yun.