The Lady of Burma
Presented by James Seabright and Louise Chantal in association with the Burma Campaign UK
Ustinov Studio, Theatre Royal Bath and touring
Richard Shannon's Lady of Burma is a passionate homage to Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The democratically elected leader has endured more than a decade under house arrest, enforced by Burma's military junta, and her life has been peppered with loss. Suu Kyi's father, general Aung San, was assasinated when Suu Ki was an infant; she lost her mother to a stroke, and was forced to put her country before her family, leaving them behind in Britain and thereby losing the chance to say her last goodbye to her husband, who subsequently died of prostate cancer.
Shannon artfully weaves this heart-breaking personal tragedy into the relentless political outrage to which Burma has been subjected, crafting a remarkable piece of theatre which informs and enrages and inspires.
For all that, this is not polemic. Suu Kyi's awesome strength of character shines through the quiet dignity of Liana Gould's performance. Shannon's present tense account of the leader's struggles, coupled with the vivid sense that Gould's Suu Kyi is both replaying and reliving the events as she narrates them, creates an immediacy and an intensity: we are being permitted to share in the visions that simultaneously drive and haunt this character.
The play climaxes with Suu Kyi's tormented recollections of the Depayin massacre, in which Shannon's text and Gould's performance artfully reveal both the real humanity of the woman, and the heroic faith of her people. The leader, devoted above all else to her fight for democracy in her beloved Burma, and grief-stricken that her presence had led her people to their deaths. And her people whose conviction in Suu Kyi was such that they didn't hesitate to put the life of their leader before their own.
Finally, broken, alone and in spite of everything she has endured, she has a salutary lesson for us all: "I have never lost hope".
"Lady of Burma" runs at the Ustinov, Bath until June 11th, then tours to Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne and the Hebden Bridge Festival until the end of June.
Reviewer: Allison Vale