|The last helicopter leaving the American Embassy, Saigon (30 May 1975)|
During the bank holiday weekend I was lucky enough to secure tickets to see the award winning Miss Saigon at the Prince Edward theatre. The musical premiered in the West End in 1989 and completed over 4000 performances before relocating to Broadway and numerous other subsequent cities. On its return to the West End this adaptation smashed all records for opening day ticket sales with good reason.
Miss Saigon is adapted from Puccini's Madame Butterfly and relays the tragic romance between an American GI (Chris) and an orphaned Vietnamese prostitute (Kim) in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh city during the 1970s. It is principally centred around events relating to the fall of Saigon to the communist Viet Cong, which celebrated its 40th anniversary recently (30th May). A slick production whose performers, costumes and set design convey the vulgarity of Dreamland and Bangkok emotively, as well as the terrifying, violent maelstrom of war which consumes and scars all participants and bystanders. Eva Noblezada (Kim), delivered a phenomenally impressive performance, especially considering that this is her West End debut.
As well as focusing on the evacuation of personnel off of the roof of the American embassy, which culminates in a spectacular, highly technical, visually absorbing and highly emotional scene, the production engages with the aftermath of the destructive conflict and the desperate sacrifices which were made during and following the fall. In addition to the millions of Vietnamese and thousands of Americans who died during the conflict, a complex legacy endures. The war irrevocably damaged America's self-confidence and political position within the world. Vietnamese civilians continued to perish in the Communists brutal "re-education" camps. Even today many Vietnamese remain exposed to destructive artillery shells, the deforming effects of chemical weapons employed during the war (such as Agent Orange), the obliteration of communities and the psychological scars carried on by civilians and servicemen/women throughout the following years.
For me, this production effectively communicated the humanity of all the characters, as you could criticise but also sympathise with every single person, irrespective of what they did. Instead of vilifying individuals (even those you initially disliked), it emphasised the horrifying nature of war, a phenomena which never produces victors, only damaged victims.
I would highly recommend getting tickets for the show, but make sure you bring lots of tissues, you will need them.