A Sidney student has played an instrumental role in bringing a landmark Chinese play to the Cambridge stage.

Penelope Sun (History, 2023) and the play’s Director, Vincy Wu, successfully pitched the play - Thunderstorm, by Cao You - to the ADC Theatre earlier this year. Written in 1933, Thunderstorm uses the implosion of a wealthy family to explore the clash of traditionalism and modernity.  

An actress on stage

Penelope Sun said: ‘It was really exciting to see Thunderstorm staged successfully. The play itself is a transnational product: Cao You combines classic Greek tragedy with a unique touch of Chinese culture and social problems, so it is a good starting point for Western audiences to get familiar with modern Chinese theatre.’ 

The production used a range of techniques, including projection, to reinforce the sense of helplessness and loneliness at the heart of the play.

‘It felt truly magical and fulfilling to see our artistic vision being brought to life by our fabulous technical team. 

'As a History student who is deeply fascinated by German film and theatre, I wanted to bring that kind of bold, experimental theatre into the Anglo-Saxon world, which from my perspective, is quite ‘conservative’ overall. Moreover, we felt that our version of Thunderstorm is not a play, but also a poem about love and desire, an aspect of Thunderstorm that is often overlooked in academic research.’  


For Penelope, the opportunity was also about addressing under-representation on the Cambridge stage: ‘I cannot help but notice that there are significantly fewer Chinese people - and Asians in general - participating in student theatre in Cambridge. The last Chinese play in the ADC theatre, The Teahouse, was 8 years ago. I wanted to do something to address that. Despite being experimental, we retained many specific cultural elements in this play, such as the use of traditional Chinese instruments.’

‘In Cambridge and in Cambridge theatre, BAME people are constantly fighting for control over their own narratives and experiences. I am extremely proud that this play can be part of the BAME effort and campaign in the Cambridge theatre.’ 

Having completed their run in Cambridge, the students are seeking funding to stage a touring production of Thunderstorm.

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