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

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI -

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

The Dreamer

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

PHOTOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

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.

PHOTOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Shake­speare fans can look for­ward to a wide se­lec­tion of the Bri­tish poet's most fa­mous plays in Shang­hai this year.

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