SHAKESPEARE FEVER HITS TOWN
Shanghai’s local theater scene is set to dish out a spectacular array of plays by the legendary English poet this year in conjunction with his 400th death anniversary
director Owen Horsley — he is the executive director for the RSC version of Henry V — has been working with actors and playwrights in Shanghai.
Despite the importance of Shakespeare’s works in the literary and theatrical realm, and the frequency of his plays being produced, China’s theater workers still find it “too difficult” in some aspects, said Nick Yu, artistic director of SDAC.
For instance, although Zhu Shenghao’s translations of the Bard’s works have been recognized as exquisite, the translations were often hard for young audiences to comprehend.
Gregory Doran, artistic director of RSC, said that this is a common problem even among professionals back home in Britain because, “after all, Shakespeare’s works were written 400 years ago, and the text can be difficult”.
RSC’s collaboration with SDAC on Henry V started when Yu visited RSC’s rehearsal studio in Stratford and witnessed how his English counterparts would work on determining the exact meaning of a difficult or ambiguous phrase before finding the best way to put it across to the audience in speech.
Doran explained this unique rehearsal process at RSC and how, as a director, he would go through the text word by word and put it “absolutely into our own words, before we put it back into the original text.” He believes that the same process might be useful for Chinese translators and theater practitioners in China working on Shakespearean plays.
“We can share our skills of making the text come to life, and then that can be translated into the Chinese context. If it works on Henry V, it would be great to see if we can share our skills on other plays in the canon,” said Doran, who added that this is an exciting period of him and the company as this is the first time Henry IV and V has ever been a major production in China.
Although some critics have said that Henry V will only appeal to the British people because it’s a story of their own history, Yu suggested otherwise, saying that the crux of the play is actually about much more profound issues.
“This is a play about the war, the morality, the ethics of going to war, the spectrum of opinions and about what it means being at war, and how politicians manipulate the agendas in order to take their country to war. This play is not just about England and it is just as relevant to China as it is to the rest of the world,” said Yu.
“If falling in love is still relevant, if ambition, jealousy and grief are still common currencies, then Shakespeare is still relevant. Because Shakespeare acts like a magnet that attracts all the iron filings of whatever is going on in the world…somehow Shakespeare articulates 360 degrees of the human experience and he does so in surprising ways.”
Yu referred to the SDAC’s presentation of Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead, a Tony Award-winning play by British author Stoppard, as “a gem dug out of the rich mine of the Bard.” He added that this play is focused on two small characters in a major event and reveals the absurdity of the human condition and destiny.
“You will find that Stoppard has come down the same path as modern masters such as Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter,” Yu said.
Meanwhile, SDAC’s production of The Taming of the Shrew will see a change of backdrop — it will now be set in 1930s’ Shanghai. Originally directed by British director Paul Stebbings, this play has been part of the company’s
A Mid Summer Night’s Dream.
Furthermore, SDAC will in October be hosting ACT, an annual festival celebrating contemporary world theater and it will again feature Shakespearean works, alongside more experimental and avant-garde presentations.
Other offerings in town
More institutions are also expected to join in the celebrations of the Bard’s jubilee throughout the year. More than half of the performing events hosted by the Shanghai Grand Theater (SGT) this year will be related to Shakespeare, according to Zhang Xiaoding, general manger of the theater.
For example, SGT will be presenting a slew of performances including Shanghai Ballet’s very own production of Hamlet in April and Mariinsky Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet in October.
“Ballet du Grand Theatre de Geneve has two programs on tour internationally, and we have chosen to introduce A Midsummer Night’s Dream in April and have intentionally picked concerts that include some Shakespearean pieces,” said Zhang.
In addition, SGT will host four Shakespeare- themed fairs this year. The public square in front of the grand theater will be occupied by food stalls offering barbecued meat, ice cream and British tea, as well as peddlers selling vintage jewelries, handicraft pieces and themed accessories. The first fair took place in February and was a huge hit with local and foreign theater fans.
artistic director of Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center
Left: The Royal Shakespeare Company engaged the locals with workshops for students earlier this year. Right: A Shakespeare-themed fair held in February was also well received by the public.
Shakespeare fans can look forward to a wide selection of the British poet's most famous plays in Shanghai this year.