Saturday, August 8, 2009

Yellow Vengeance

Oriental villains were also a staple of British theatre. According to Steve Nicholson in The Censorship of British Drama, Chinese villains and their drug and torture businesses continued to be a staple ingredient of melodrama after melodrama in the 1920s and '30s. Admittedly, much of the popular drama of the day was inferior rubbish, roundly condemned by the Chinese community which frequently petitioned the Lord Chancellor's Office to have them banned. The Twister, licensed in 1928, was set in Chang's Torture Chamber and featured cocaine gangs. Another Chinese-dope melodrama was The Yellow Hand, licensed to the Bilston Hippodrome in 1929.

Another example of this type of drama is Yellow Vengeance, licensed to the Theatre Royal, Worthing, in 1928. In this play, Wong Koo, a brilliant Chinese doctor, injects the son of Gerard Pearson with tetanus in revenge for Pearson violated Koo's betrothed (who then committed suicide) when they were at Oxford together. It turns out that Koo is only bluffing, however, and his aim is to teach Pearson a moral lesson. According to the Lord Chancellor's Office it was an example of 'the Chinese rubbish play reduced to a very simple form.' The play's interest is that it was written by Evelyn Bradley, the theatre manager from Hove who wrote several 1930s cult thrillers under the name R.R. Ryan. Letters fom Bradley, whose stage name was Rex Ryan, indicate that a play about 'the Mandarin Wong Koo' was one of his.

For 150 years a system of censorship existed in Great Britain demanding that all plays be reviewed by the Lord Chamberlain before they could be licensed for public performance. Until the practice ended in 1968 a copy of every play was lodged with the Lord Chamberlain's Office, which are available for public access in the British Library, one of the great resources of literary and social history.

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