Drum Drama, City Edinburgh, Review

Submitted by Pat Napier on Wed, 6 Aug '08 6.27pm
Rating (out of 5)
Show info
China Drum Arts Ensemble
Suning Zhang (designer and director)
Chinese National Group Ensemble
Running time

From the first enormous strike of the huge red drum, everyone knew that they were in for a unique treat.

The tantalising glimpses of long thin, swishing feathers in the wings couldn't prepare people for the sheer beauty of the exotic, elaborate costumes and dazzling skills of the performers as they introduced the dramatic stories of Chinese life, as told in virtuosic drumming.

This Ensemble is the very first Chinese National Group ever to perform live in Europe, so the fact that their Fringe appearance starts off their tour is an important measure of the esteem in which China holds Edinburgh.

Tales of the things that the Chinese hold dear enchanted everyone: animals were portrayed in the bull and tiger battling it out and the rat-fairy wedding, which had a beguiling humour. We sat in on a family chatting together as they exchanged news (all through superb acting and a mastery of mimicry).

War is the biggest drama for any nation, so two of the three big set-pieces revealed the indomitable spirit and fearsome determination of their women, the lady warriors, in avenging their men folk.

Warriors irresistibly call to mind the famed terra cotta warriors, and also the fact that their first-ever showing in Europe was right here in Edinburgh decades ago, for they belonged to China's first Emperor whose capital was Xi'an, Edinburgh's twin city.

Both spectacles illustrated waves of marching foot soldiers, the clash of steel, screams of the smitten, galloping horses, gunfire and the jingling of harnesses as the victors withdrew. Powerful stuff!

The importance and celebration of good harvests was symbolised by the brilliant falling walnuts, so graphic that they could almost be felt as they rained down off the trees.

"Happiness," the last set piece, showed the joyous customs of the Chinese New Year and the children's excitement at all their treats.

Chinese drumming is exciting, varied, humorous and absorbing in a quite different way from Japanese drumming, which is intense and spiritual. The confined space is superbly handled, giving an intimate, "part of the action" feel.

Don't miss this superb show. And take your children to see this Drum Drama if you're sure they won't be put off by too much noise.

Times: Aug 4-24, 16:00, £8.50 (£6.50); Aug 4-15, 17-24, 19:30, £10.00 (£8.00)

© Pat Napier. 5 August 2008