Hampstead Theatre (venue)
12 September 2019 (released)
14 September 2019
As the first production in Roxana Silbert's debut season as Artistic Director at the Hampstead Theatre, this ambitious play has all the promise of "a fascinating and disturbing true story" . It centres around a whistle-blowing heroine, based on the real life experiences of Dr Wang Shuping, who in the play becomes the character of Yin Yin. The production explores the greed and lust for money through the harvesting and selling of blood plasma. The rapid growth in this 'commodity' results in cross contamination, and China's own Hepatitis C and AIDS epidemic. It is Yin Yin, and her expertise in infectious diseases, that leads to the discovery of the HIV virus in samples of blood plasma. She then has to make the difficult decision between Family loyalty ,safety, and exposing the Truth.
Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig's play deals with the magnitude of this disaster through the lens of two specific families. One that is integral to the growth of Plasma collection stations . The other being the victim of the promise of a better life, through the physical harvesting of their blood . Focussing in on family experiences and lives should have allowed for fully rounded characters and personal conflicts. However, having a cast of eight, doubling across the two families, made it difficult to establish who was who in the opening scenes. Adding to that, the amount of important factual information that is imparted, meant the beginning half of the play lacked the engagement and character development it needed.
As the whistle-blower Lin Lin (Celeste Den) brings enormous humanity to the role, showing the internal struggle between exposing the truth and protecting her family. It felt that her story craved more stage time.
My other major concern was that in trying to tell this incredibly important story in its chronological totality, meant some characters and events became far too edited. Their lives and later tragedies didn't have the depth or impact they deserved.
This is one factual story that audiences in the UK will know very little about, and one that the Chinese Authorities are still trying to cover-up. With this in mind, one might expect an evening of intrigue drama and unpredictability. Unfortunately this falls somewhat short.