Charlotte Russell chats with Colin Ryan, who is currently starring in ‘Snow in Midsummer’ at the RSC
Hi Colin. I’m incredibly excited to hear about the upcoming production Snow in Midsummer at the RSC. I’ve heard that you are playing the character Handsome Zhang, tell me about him.
Handsome Zhang has inherited his factory from his father and has over the years, turned it into a success, and as a result is held in high regard in his local town. He is in a relationship with the character Rocket, who had a heart transplant a few years back. The story is about the strength of Handsome’s love for Rocket and the length that he will go to in order to keep that.
Do you feel that you can relate to the character at all? Does he differ from yourself in any way?
In China they call these privileged rich kids ‘princelings’, and in that sense the character is very different from myself. He therefore has this air of superiority. But that’s one of the fun things about acting I suppose, playing characters that are very different from you.
I understand that you are from Birmingham. Is it quite cool to be performing at the RSC?
Yeah, absolutely. I’ve performed here a few times, such as Wendy and Peter Pan in 2013 and The Summer Swan in 2015. It’s always lovely to come back to the Midlands, especially the RSC as it is so brilliant. On top of this it’s lovely to come and see all my family. It’s a really nice break from London as well.
Is there any added pressure considering it is the world premiere of this production?
I guess every production is different. With Snow In Midsummer, because the writing is new and it is a world premiere, it isn’t tried and tested. It is a little bit scary as a result. But overall it is just really exciting. The vibes in the rehearsal room are great, and everyone has been working really hard.
It must be quite refreshing, being in something so different from a Shakespearean production then?
That’s one of the most exciting things. This is a genre breaking play. It’s got high drama, intensely close relationships, politics and it is also a ghost story as well. You don’t really see ghost stories done on stage, apart from the Woman in Black nothing springs to mind. It’s also set in China, which is a setting we don’t really see done much on stage.
It’s exciting to see a Chinese drama with Asian actors on stage. I wondered if you had any comments on theatre as a whole and whether we should be seeing more people of colour in other productions as well?
I think it’s fantastic that the RSC are doing a production set in China and using East-Asian actors. It is an entirely East-Asian cast. My ethnicity is a little different, in the acting world I am classed as an East-Asian actor, but in actual fact I am Thai-English, my Mum being from Thailand and my Dad being a Brummie, although my grandparents are originally from China. A sign of real progress would be to see East-Asian actors in non-race specific roles.
That would be very progressive, and I think it is necessary. More needs to be done especially considering the prejudiced response to ‘Black Hermione’ in London.
Things like that show how far we are still to go with diversity and acceptance. It would be great to see the East-Asian community involved in a lot more of the Shakespearean productions also playing characters because the actors are good enough and not because the character depends on their race. At the same time, it is still brilliant that we are seeing plays like this done. Yet considering all this, even though Snow in Midsummer is set in China, it’s not necessarily a ‘China Play’, it’s much more about the human relationships within the play. It is relevant to anyone. The play is based on a Chinese classic, yet the playwright has taken the story and completely contemporizes it, and it really explores issues of 2017. I therefore feel that the play is very, fresh, exciting, and current.
‘Snow in Midsummer’ runs at the RSC in Stratford upon Avon until the 25th of March. Check it out at https://www.rsc.org.uk/snow-in-midsummer/about-the-play
A video introducting the cast, as well as the characters they play, can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13D0nS3lheY