Cul­ture col­li­sionon

Stage pro­duc­tion com­bines mbines Shake­speare, Tang Xianzu anzu

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at chen­nan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

When Li Ruru first read Wil­liam Shake­speare’ s Ham­let, she didn’t re­ally like it— she was then 11 years old, and the com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ships and dra­matic tragedy were too much for her to com­pre­hend.

But 50 years later, the 64-year-old teaches com­par­a­tive and in­ter­cul­tural the­ater stud­ies, in­clud­ing re­search­ing the works of Shake­speare, all thanks to her fam­ily.

Her mother, Li Yuru (19232008), was a fa­mous Pek­ing Opera ac­tress and her step­fa­ther, Cao Yu (1910-94), a renowned Chi­nese play­wright.

Li Ruru, who earned her bach­e­lor’s and mas­ter’s de­grees at the Shang­hai The­ater Academy, is now pro­fes­sor of Chi­nese the­ater stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Leeds, where she ob­tained her doc­toral de­gree in drama and the­ater in 1993.

She has spent the last two years shap­ing an am­bi­tious project — a stage pro­duc­tion called A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream­ing Un­der the South­ern Bough, which com­bines the 17th-cen­tury mas­ter­pieces of Shake­speare with works by Ming Dy­nasty (1368-1644) play­wright Tang Xianzu, both of whom died in 1616.

“I knew that 2016 would be a great op­por­tu­nity to cel­e­brate th­ese two lit­er­ary gi­ants. You can­not wait for an­other 100 years,” Li tells China Daily.

“For me, it’s also a wish to in­tro­duce Chi­nese the­ater to for­eign au­di­ences be­cause peo­ple don’t know about it.”

The col­lab­o­ra­tion com­prises two parts: Chi­nese stu­dents from the Univer­sity of In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness and Eco­nomics in Bei­jing in­ter­pret Shake­speare’s A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream; and stu­dents from the Univer­sity of Leeds per­form Tang’s play Record of the South­ern Bough.

The pro­duc­tion pre­miered at the Univer­sity of Leeds on July 27 and moved to the Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val Fringe.

Last week, it was staged in Shang­hai and Bei­jing.

Its run ended in Fuzhou, Jiangxi prov­ince, Tang’s birth­place, on Sun­day, as part of a se­ries of events com­mem­o­rat­ing Shake­speare and Tang.

WhenLi ini­ti­ated the idea of the pro­duc­tion, it was con­sid­ered “day­dream­ing” and “un­achiev­able”. But she went ahead and chose stu­dents who are not the­ater ma­jors.

“The most in­ter­est­ing part of the project is to have young peo­ple with­out the­ater knowl­edge learn and per­form works of Shake­speare and Tang,” says Li.

One of the most chal­leng­ing parts was to shorten Tang’s Record of the South­ern Bough, a 22-hour, 44-scene work, which is about a drunken man’s jour­ney in his dream.

Adam Strick­son, one of the co-adapters of Tang’s Record of the South­ern Bough, says: “It’s the long­est play I’ve ever read. We had to find what mat­ters to the au­di­ence.

“So, while re­tain­ing the dif­fer­ences, we look for what we have in com­mon, such as where we go in life and the value of liv­ing in to­day’s so­ci­ety as an in­di­vid­ual.”

Li Jun, who teaches Euro­pean and Amer­i­can drama at the Bei­jing-based univer­sity and who co-wrote the script of A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream­ing Un­der the South­ern Bough, says it’s chal­leng­ing for Chi­nese per­form­ers to make Shake­speare’s A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream rel­e­vant to a con­tem­po­rary so­ci­ety.

“We made some changes to Shake­speare’s orig­i­nal ver­sion from a Chi­nese per­spec­tive. For ex­am­ple, there are two men who love the same woman in the play, but we have two women who fall in love with the same man in our ver­sion. It’s a way of show­ing the rise of women in Chi­nese so­ci­ety, with spe­cific ref­er­ence to young urban women,” says Li Jun.

Di­rec­tor Steve Ansell’s jour­ney with the project could be said to have started in Shang­hai when he first vis­ited China in 2012.

He first worked in Li Ruru’s play The Sun Is Not For Us, which was in­spired by Cao Yu, and brought to­gether char­ac­ters and sto­ries from the play­wright’s four most-fa­mous the­ater works in a one-hour pro­duc­tion.

“The 400th an­niver­sary presents the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to re­visit, re-imag­ine and re­po­si­tion Tang for a con­tem­po­rary au­di­ences both in China and the UK as a con­tem­po­rary of Shake­speare and as a mas­ter sto­ry­teller in his own right,” says Ansell.

Rachel Turner, a 21-year-old stu­dent from Univer­sity of Leeds, plays three roles in the pro­duc­tion.

She de­cided to ex­tend her stay in China for a year to study at Shang­hai The­ater Academy.

“This is a new ex­pe­ri­ence for me and I hope that this per­for­mance will be the start of join­ing our cul­tures as well as our so­ci­eties,” says Turner.

It’s also a wish to in­tro­duce Chi­nese the­ater to for­eign au­di­ences.” Li Ruru, pro­ducer of A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream­ing Un­der the South­ern Bough

PHOTOS ZHU XINGXIN / CHINA DAILY

The play AMid­sum­merNight’sDream­ingUn­dertheSouth­ernBough fea­tures young stu­dents from China and the United King­dom, most of whom are not the­ater ma­jors.

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