Eastern Star at Tara Theatre

Eastern Star at Tara Theatre

With the desperate plight of Rohingya people and resultant tarnishing of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s reputation, the situation in Myanmar has been a feature of news broadcasts in recent months. Notwithstanding moves towards democracy and some liberalisation, many people may be vaguely aware that real power still lies in the hands of Myanmese generals. Less well known or forgotten about is the ‘Students’ Revolution of 1988 which brought Aung San Suu Kyi to prominence. A whole generation in Myanmar is apparently also unaware of this history. Writer of Eastern Star, Guy Slater (who also directs) cleverly uses the character Maya Tun Aung (Julie Cheung-Inhim) to not only represent this generation but to allow her uncle U May Min (David Yip) to educate both her and audience on events leading up to and beyond the revolution, as well as the roles played by himself and an at the time inexperienced BBC reporter Christopher Gunness (Michael Lumsden).

Eastern Star

Photos: Brendan Foster

Bookending the action, Slater uses Patrick Pearson (Jake Hansard) husband of Gunness, to account for the strange reluctance of Gunness to elaborate on his own story. This, combined with a compulsion to reunify with U May Min after so many years and to confront guilt he feels over his conduct feeds into the meat of the play – the meetings in Myanmar between Gunness and U May Min.

The play explores a number of themes within these meetings – the degree to which journalists can be manipulated; their responsibility towards their sources; consequences of imprisonment and torture; rationalisation of action. The suppressed anger of U May Min emerges at random moments which is perhaps understandable to an extent but on occasion seemed slightly forced, along with the determination to overcome such an unproductive emotion. Similarly, the tears of Gunness seemed somewhat at odds with their expressed cause. Some questions were left hanging – for example the real reason why U May Min was apparently out of favour with his former conspirators.

The highlight of the play was indeed the personal exchanges between Yip & Lumsden together with the theatrical recreation of events unfolding and communicated to London by telephone. Audience sympathy was shared and shifted between the characters along with their conflicting motivations, for which a deserved standing ovation was provided at the end. Slightly less successful were the separate exchanges between Cheung-InHin and Yip on the one hand together with Pearson and Lumsden on the other, which occasionally had an air of artificiality as a result of their partly expository nature.

Eastern StarDesigner Elroy Ashmore’s outline of Myanmar with masks pressed against its gauze was a ghostly presence given the lives lost in Myanmar’s recent history. A central rostrum used as a marital bed in the UK and work table/seating area in Myanmar maximised use of the available space, with action in both countries sometimes running simultaneously.

This play works on a number of levels, providing historical information on a wider scale together with its impact on a relatable personal level. It provides considerable food for thought long after its conclusion, not least of which being the degree to which dramatic licence had been taken. No matter. This was a powerful piece of theatre which serves as a timely reminder of events not fully understood in the west and of the consequences continuing to unfold.

Review by Robin Kelly

This production of Eastern Star is dedicating the run to the two Reuters journalists, U Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, given seven-year prison sentences in Yangon, for ‘violating a state secrets act’. A petition book, calling on the authorities in Myanmar to release U Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo will be available for theatre goers and members of the public to sign. At the end of the three-week run, Jatinder Verma will present the petition to the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

If you liked this review of Eastern Star you might also like my reviews of Tartuffe and Beirut.

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