I quite enjoyed this musical.
So must our government. One of the underlying themes of the show is how an unregulated, untrammelled, free-wheeling media can distort the truth, and the chaos that distortion can cause.
Basically, English painter forms a close relationship with Empress Cixi. Empress opens up to her, sharing her life story. English painter relates all this to a sly English journalist who she’s falling in love with. He happily humours the painter’s infatuation as he writes a fantastic tale of an evil Empress mother murdering her son. This story gets broadcast, much to the chagrin of Empress and English painter.
English journalist goes on a long drawl about how his readers want something exciting and juicy, not the truth. The truth doesn’t sell. And, also, about how he is part of a cunning international plot to destabilize China, on a mission from the Crown!
The free press, a dangerous institution indeed.
Other themes that were touched on: Orientalism, Historical narratives and powerplays. Also, the power of literarature versus painting:
One can share in the English painter’s frustration, who after having completed a fine painting of the Empress, sees her attempt to portray this towering woman completely washed aside by the fibs the English journalist tells.
Hers is just a portrait, his a narrative long remembered, more easily reproduced.