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The Sugar-Coated Bullets of the Bourgeoisie review at Arcola Theatre, London – ‘very funny satire’

Scene from The Sugar-Coated Bullets of the Bourgeoisie at Arcola Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton Scene from The Sugar-Coated Bullets of the Bourgeoisie at Arcola Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Anders Lustgarten is known for his impassioned, politically charged if often somewhat unsubtle, writing. Past plays include Black Jesus and A Day at the Racists. You get the idea. But in The Sugar-Coated Bullets of the Bourgeoisie, he has created a very funny satirical play that’s not afraid to poke fun at itself: “what do you think?” asks one character, “a wee bit on the nose?”

Sugar-Coated Bullets, an exploration of Chinese history since 1949, is undeniably on the nose. Beginning with the Maoist revolution, it tells the story of modern China through the prism of a backwater village named Rotten Peach.

The comrades of the Communist Party come to explain the New World to the peasant villagers; by 2016, the descendants of both sides are united again – this time however the Party isn’t beseeching them to throw off their feudal shackles, but seizing the land for redevelopment.

A scene involving a gaggle of Chairman Mao impersonators is both striking and hilarious, Steven Atkinson’s direction of the talented eight-strong cast is bold, and the production whips along.

The frustrating elements of Lustgarten’s work remain though. Characters are forever spouting politic theory – the villagers need collectivism explained to them, a neat idea but dramatically inert – while some scenes are so simplistic and, yes, on the nose they make the whole thing feel like it’s aimed at GCSE students. There’s love for the country here though and Lustgarten’s work brings satisfying, flesh-and-blood humanity to the ordinary protagonists of the Chinese state.

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Fresh and often very funny, if on-the-nose, exploration of modern China