Softer fo­cus

Stage di­rec­tor takes a fa­mous war­riors’ tale, Ro­manceof theThree King­doms, and gives the roles to women, Xu Jingxi re­ports in Guangzhou.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE -

Hong Kong stage di­rec­tor Ed­ward Lam rein­ter­prets the clas­sic Ro­mance of the Three King­doms.

Ro­mance of the Three King­doms, a 14th-cen­tury novel based on the his­tory of Three King­doms pe­riod (AD 220-280), has been re­garded as a men’s book. The main char­ac­ters are the male war­riors and strate­gists who bat­tled in blood and brains seek­ing to rule over the whole coun­try. Hong Kong stage di­rec­tor Ed­ward Lam over­turns peo­ple’s stereo­types in his adap­ta­tion of the novel. The 13 main char­ac­ters are played by ac­tresses dressed in mod­ern school uni­forms. The scene is set in a class­room in­stead of the bat­tle­field. Each of the play’s 12 acts is a his­tory les­son in which stu­dents put on a play to rein­ter­pret the novel.

This is Lam’s third pro­duc­tion since 2006 that is adapted from China’s Four Great Clas­si­cal Nov­els. He thinks it’s bor­ing to re­pro­duce the his­tor­i­cal tales on­stage with re­splen­dent set­tings and an­cient cos­tumes.

“I as­sign a ques­tion to each play to con­nect th­ese clas­si­cal tales to to­day’s so­ci­ety. Look­ing for an­swers, the au­di­ence will be eas­ily drawn into the play and feel ful­filled af­ter watch­ing a show that is thought-pro­vok­ing,” Lam ex­plains.

What is suc­cess? This is the ques­tion Lam has as­signed to his lat­est adap­ta­tion. “Peo­ple nowa­days are des­per­ate for suc­cess, which can be seen in the over­flow of tal­ent shows on TV. They seek at­ten­tion to feel that they are im­por­tant and suc­cess­ful,” Lam says.

Ten­nis balls, the eye-catch­ing flu­o­res­cent yel­low and green props used through­out the play, are a metaphor for the cen­ter of at­ten­tion, ac­cord­ing to the di­rec­tor.

They re­place many other props, such as the wine glasses for Liu Bei, the em­peror of Shu state, and Cao Cao, the em­peror of Wei state, when the two dis­cuss the topic of heroes.

And it is a well-thought chore­og­ra­phy that the ac­tresses jug­gle ten­nis balls when de­liv­er­ing their lines.

“It’s a suc­cess when you catch the ball(s). Then we need to see if it is a nice catch and if you are able to smile af­ter­wards,” says Yuri Ng, the chore­og­ra­pher. Many peo­ple re­gard Ro­mance of

the Three King­doms as a guide­book to “catch a ball”, or suc­cess. They an­a­lyze how to ap­ply the tac­tics fea­tured in the book to the work­place and in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ships.

How­ever, in Lam’s eyes, it is a book of lessons born from fail­ure. “Many char­ac­ters win in the bat­tle­field but lose friends and free­doms,” the di­rec­tor says. “The most im­por­tant task for my writ­ing is to find the ten­der spot,” says the play­wright Wong Wing-sze, who, as a woman, was not in­ter­ested in the novel at first, stereo­typ­ing it as a book of men’s wars.

“Later I found that th­ese men also have sen­ti­ments that are sim­i­lar to women’s, such as jeal­ousy and ha­tred, which I can re­late to.”

While some peo­ple sug­gest it’s just a gim­mick to as­sign male roles to fe­male per­form­ers, Tai­wan writer Yang Chao stands be­hind Lam’s de­ci­sion be­cause fe­males are able to di­rectly ex­press their vul­ner­a­bil­ity.

For ex­am­ple, the two ac­tresses who play the em­peror Cao Cao and leg­endary doc­tor Hua Tuo present the most grace­ful, breath­tak­ing arm wrestling. The move­ments are like dance, pulling, hug­ging and turn­ing over on the ta­ble. The dia­logue is also a wrestling con­test, with Cao strug­gling be­tween killing Hua and break­ing down her de­fenses to love and care for a friend.

“It’s dif­fi­cult for men to bare their emo­tions deep in their hearts. It will look awkward if the scene is played by two men,” Yang re­marks.

Lam says the se­ries of his­tory lessons in­vites the au­di­ence to re­flect on the chal­lenges faced by any gen­er­a­tion.

“The process of grow­ing up is pro­longed nowa­days, with mod­ern so­ci­ety’s fast tempo push­ing peo­ple go­ing for­ward and leav­ing lit­tle time for them to learn about them­selves,” Lam says.

“With well-de­vel­oped self-knowl­edge, you will es­tab­lish your own def­i­ni­tion of suc­cess so that you won’t be both­ered by not meet­ing other’s ex­pec­ta­tions, which is an im­por­tant sign of ma­tu­rity.”

The the­ater adap­ta­tion of the Chi­nese clas­si­cal novel Ro­mance of theThree King­doms is set in a mod­ern class­room and

Di­rec­tor Ed­ward Lam.

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