Bard made relevant
The National Center for the Performing Arts is putting up a Mandarin version of King Lear, and this work aims to make the playwright more relevant for contemporary audiences. Chen Nan reports.
Director Li Liuyi is working to make the Mandarin version of Shakespeare’s KingLear, at the National Center for the Performing Arts, meaningful for contemporary audiences.
One of William Shakespeare’s tragedies, King Lear, is being translated into Mandarin for a stage production, which will open in Beijing on Jan 20. The play is a production by the National Center for the Performing Arts and is part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 10-year cultural exchange project, entitled Shakespeare’s Folio Translation Project.
In November, the Royal Shakespeare Company collaborated with the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center on a new Chinese production of
Henry V, which kicked off this latest translation project.
For the King Lear production, Chinese director Li Liuyi is working on the script, which is based on Daniel S.P. Yang’s translation of King Lear. Li has also read seven other Chinese translations for reference, including the versions of Zhu Shenghao (1912-44) and Bian Zhilin (1910-2000).
According to Weng Shihui, the project manager of the Shakespeare’s Folio Translation Project, the latest translation is for the stage adaptation of the play, and a large part of the translation has been done during the rehearsals.
“Audiences here are familiar with Shakespeare because his plays have been translated by many scholars and have been staged many times in China,” Li says.
“But many of the translations and adaptations do not portray the characters’ innermost thoughts.
“What I want to do with this play is to make Shakespeare accessible and easy to comprehend for Chinese audiences.”
Li, a Chinese director and playwright of t he Beijing People’s Art Theater, has been to the United Kingdom twice to visit the Royal Shakespeare Company — mainly to discuss the script with Shakespeare experts.
He says that his visits made him realize that, for the stage adaptation, it is important to translate Shakespeare’s plays without too much poetic and literary decoration.
Explaining his motivation for doing the play, he says: “This year marks the 400 th anniversary of t he Bard’s death, as well as that of Chinese playwright Tang Xianzu. We are celebrating these two great playwrights. But, how do we make their works relevant for contemporary audiences? That’s a question I want to answer with this play.”
Pu Cunxin, a Chinese actor and the deputy director of the Beijing People’s Arts Theater, plays King Lear, while actresses Lu Fang, Zhao Qian and Wan Qianhui play the king’s three daughters.
Speaking about his role, Pu, 63, says: “It’s a wonderful challenge for actors to do a profound tragedy like King Lear, and it is exciting for the audience to see how they tackle the script, which is from another ti me and another culture.
“I have always dreamed about doing a role like this. With my experience, it is perfect timing for me to play King Lear.”
Meanwhile, director Li has also i nvited Japanese costume designer Emi Wada to work on King Lear.
Wada, 79, has worked with some of the greatest Japanese and international directors in film, opera and dance. She has also worked in Chinese projects, such as Chinese director Zhang Yimou’s films — Hero in 2002 and
House of Flying Daggers in 2004 — composer Tan Dun’s opera, The First Emperor, and dancer-choreographer Fei Bo’s ballet piece, The Peony Pavilion.
She is also known for her Academy Award-winning costumes for Akira Kurosawa’s Ran in 1986, which was inspired by Shakespeare’s
Sounding very enthusiastic about her association with the project, she says: “I love Shakespeare’s works and I want to do costumes for all of his works.
“But what I care most about in a project is whether I can try something new. I have done costumes for King Lear, but I think this Chinese play will be the best of my King Lear projects.”
She says that all the costumes for the play are handmade, including the embroidery.
What I want to do with this play is to make Shakespeare accessible and easy to comprehend for Chinese audiences.” Li Liuyi, director of KingLear
Japanese costume designer
Emi Wada says the Chinese adaptation will be the best of her KingLear projects.
Pu Cunxin will play the role of King Lear, which he says is a dream come true.