In commemoration of the impending 30th anniversary of the 1988 student uprising against the Burmese military dictatorship, writer and director brings new writing Eastern Star to Tara Theatre this September. This incredibly important story is based on the true and complex relationship between local human rights lawyer, U Nay Min and BBC journalist Christopher Gunness - both fundamental for igniting the revolution. Slater’s writing focuses on their belated and painful reunion 25 years later where their lives are worlds apart: Gunness has been successful, promoted and glorified whilst Nay Min remained imprisoned, tortured and forgotten.
The story starts with Gunness, performed by Michael Lumsden, plagued by trauma originating from his time in Burma (now Myanmar). Full of regret and guilt for fleeing to safety when the military carried out a brutal massacre on its citizens, he struggles to decide whether he should return to make amends. His concerned husband Jake Hansard, played by the charming Patrick Pearson, encourages him to embark on a mission to reconcile with his former friend Nay Min, played by David Yip. Nay Min decides to use this as an opportunity to educate his affectionate niece Maya, performed by Julie Cheung-Inhin, on the hidden events of the past.
With such a momentous topic to cover and 25 years of separation to catch up on, the story is an ambitious charge to cover in 75 mins. The play is largely a series of static conversations. Slater’s writing is informative but the writing lends itself to excessive exposition and there is little subtext for the actors to dig into. Using naïve niece Maya who “knows nothing of that time” as a reason to recount the events that occurred before and after the revolution was an effective choice. Maya prompts and asks questions that spectators are thinking as the story unfolds. When she comes to the realisation of how much her uncle had suffered for the cause, Cheung-Inhin’s performance was particularly moving.
Designer Elroy Ashmore’s effective and haunting creation of a Myanmar map filled with lost faces hangs over the performers throughout the show. The set is simple, which showcases the cast’s adept storytelling. Gunness uses simple but effective staging to ensure the production keeps a good pace. Though, at moments, transitions feel a little rushed which took away from the powerful and painful images Lumsden narrated.
It’s no secret the play has a political motive to educate spectators about the harrowing past where campaigning for human rights led to the police state enforcing a brutal massacre of over 1000 citizens. Certainly an informative evening.
Reviewer: Isla Robinson
Reviewed: 12th September 2018
North West End Rating: ★★★