Yeh Shen

Review written by Flossie Waite
Yellow Earth in association with Polka Theatre
Polka Theatre
For ages 6+
18th February – 8th March at Polka Theatre, touring nationally 15th March – 5th April

Yeh Shen is a new version of the original Cinderella story, a tale dating back to 9th Century China. Forget talking mice, fairy godmothers, and a handsome prince; Yeh Shen is best friends with a fish, meets an ancestral spirit, and tries to avoid a king with a foot fetish.

This isn’t a completely unrecognizable story – there’s still an evil stepmother, a horrible half-sister, and a lost shoe – they just don’t do quite what you expect. Modern fairytales are increasingly giving their leading ladies a bit more to do (just look at Disney’s Frozen) and Vicky Ireland’s script makes Yeh Shen kind and beautiful, but also hard-working, resourceful and brave. She couldn’t give two hoots about marrying royalty and moans about visiting the palace. Disney’s Cinderella sings “A dream is wish your heart makes”; Yeh Shen’s mantra is “Dignity, determination, keep going no matter what”.

Along with the terrific script and talented ensemble, Claire Lyth’s design is sumptuous and sparkly, with the patterned cloth, colourful costumes and paper lanterns making this a truly beautiful production. Add to this the exquisite puppets provided by Polka’s Roman Stefanski, and original music performed live by Joanna Zenghui Qiu on traditional Chinese instruments, and Yeh Shen really does have it all.

This is a grittier version than audiences are likely to have seen – Yeh Shen’s best friend, the fish, is killed and cooked, and she carries his bones in a pouch around her neck – but refreshingly so.

Image by Robert Workman

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