Shake­speare’s RichardIII in Chuju Style

Special Focus - - Contents - Gode­froy Lepy [France]

Is Shake­spear­ian tragedy suit­able for a Chi­nese scene? What will Chi­nese peo­ple think about a West­ern story with a Chi­nese dis­guise? What could a Westerner have to say about it? I can only try to an­swer the last. As in ev­ery­thing re­gard­ing beauty and har­mony, in Chi­nese tra­di­tion, the para­dox of art is to achieve nat­u­ral­ness by the most ar­ti­fi­cial means. In ac­tors’ ges­ture: they are re­quired to re­al­ize sym­bols, not to per­form ac­tions. Hence this lux­ury of dance and cod­i­fied move­ments ex­presses mean­ings that speech fails to con­vey. We see this in their cos­tumes, as well: mag­nif­i­cent gar­ments and heavy make up hid­ing the fea­tures of the hu­man body and giv­ing ac­tors the hi­er­atic faces of liv­ing stat­ues.

In fact, the Chu opera (Chuju), a lo­cal form of Chi­nese opera, is a to­tally en­com­pass­ing form of art, merg­ing into an in­te­grated whole mu­sic, dance, speech, and dress. By a mag­i­cal de­tour, ac­tors and mu­si­cians cre­ate the il­lu­sion of life and mo­tion by means we rarely see in real life. As in a dream, princesses

and heroes of an­cient times are brought back to life for us; as in an en­chant­ment, sym­bols are not icons any­more, but they are the re­al­ity they stand for. Far from be­ing abstract and dry, Chu opera is riv­et­ing from be­gin­ning to end: spirit, as well as senses, are cap­ti­vated by the abun­dance of col­ors and forms.

On the af­ter­noon of Septem­ber 7, 2018, the first at­tempt to adapt Shake­speare’s tragedy RichardIII into a Chu opera was put on stage. As for this spe­cific per­for­mance, one might ar­gue that the com­plex­ity and depth of the orig­i­nal was lost in trans­la­tion. But West­ern pro­duc­ers them­selves often sim­plify the text, by sup­press­ing char­ac­ters or omit­ting lines. As ev­ery­thing deeply spir­i­tual, real the­ater was never writ­ten, but only per­formed. If the show achieves its goal, touches and moves the spec­ta­tor, is the let­ter of the text that im­por­tant? Leav­ing aside the speci­fici­ties of the fights of Plan­ta­genet and Tu­dor, this Chu opera recre­ates the uni­ver­sal story of man’s strug­gle for power. The Chi­nese ti­tle, Royal Horse

Story , em­pha­sizes what seems to be a de­tail in the orig­i­nal, when the king is ask­ing “A horse, a horse, a king­dom for my horse.” By an in­ge­nious in­ven­tion, this horse be­comes a cen­tral char­ac­ter of the play, em­bod­ied by an ac­tor, like a Puck or an Ariel. Here is an ex­am­ple of a sym­bol stand­ing for it­self: the mal­ice of the cun­ning Richard III is shown to the spec­ta­tor as an ac­tual thing. The same could be said when the new king and his brother’s widow share a nup­tial cup to cel­e­brate their wed­ding: this sim­ple ac­tion is in fact arous­ing ter­ror and pity in the spec­ta­tor’s heart.

To con­clude I would like to re­port a very spe­cial in­ci­dent. Although it is re­garded as con­ceited to talk about one’s own ex­pe­ri­ence, and even if I am fully aware of my own sub­jec­tiv­ity, I am con­vinced this ac­count of my thoughts might please those in­ter­ested in the vi­cis­si­tudes of the hu­man mind.

Richard III, here styled King Wu, in a cli­max of vi­o­lence, ended

up fight­ing his own sub­jects to de­fend his stolen throne. The stage be­came a pan­de­mo­nium where danc­ing sol­diers were sur­round­ing the cor­nered prince. I was cap­ti­vated by this des­per­ate bout, muf­fled by the sound of the mu­sic. I al­ready knew that King Wu would lose: is it not the rule of a tragedy? Yet, com­bat is even more fas­ci­nat­ing when it is des­per­ate. When the en­gage­ment was the more stren­u­ous, when my whole spirit was at­tached to those war­riors, not danc­ing any­more but fly­ing, when I was my­self al­most in a trance, the prince lost his wig be­cause of the false move of an ac­tor.

There was no prince any­more, no sol­diers and no war: I sud­denly re­al­ized that this bat­tle was an il­lu­sion. Can I de­scribe the feel­ing of empti­ness over­whelm­ing my heart? I was only shud­der­ing for a man with a wig and a plas­tic spear. The per­for­mance soon ended, as if ac­tors knew the sor­cery was shat­tered and any fur­ther at­tempt would be con­demned to be an idle waste of time; but the fall­ing of the wig left with me a dis­agree­able im­pres­sion.

Is there a bet­ter proof, even though it is a neg­a­tive one, of the sug­ges­tive power of this kind of the­ater? The bare head of the ac­tor was, by con­trast, em­pha­siz­ing the ar­ti­fi­cial and su­per­nat­u­ral, al­most hi­er­atic, life on stage.

G o d e f r o y L e p y, a french c i t i zen w ho has been liv­ing in Wuhan for three years, was in­vited to see a Chi­nese adap­ta­tion of Shake­speare’sRichardIII as a Chu opera, the tra­di­tional form of dra­matic art from Hubei.

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