Monday, October 10, 2005

Beijing Dawn

Of the three actors Nick suggested to me, I've met two. The third, Xu Zheng, is in Beijing, where I arrived this morning at 6.30, just as the sun was rising and the mist hanging over the capital. I've already phoned Xu Zheng from Shanghai, but it's difficult to hold phone conversations in a foreign language (at one point he told me, in perfect English "I don't really speak English"). I told him I'd ask a Chinese speaker to phone him when I got here.

This will be Fang Mengxuan ("You can call me Julia" - I'm getting used to this), who is a student here and a friend of Haili and "Jessica" from the Yue opera: having volunteered to be my guide and translator in Beijing, she had a frustrating hour this morning running around outside the vast Beijing station searching for a westerner in a red hat. She's also tracked down some other intriguing Beijing theatre people for me to speak to.

The last of the Yue operas, on Saturday night, was called Peer at Princess Three Times, and was another comic piece about a woman general who can't be looked at by men, and eventually falls in love with a doctor. It's silly but fun: and again different in style from the others I've seen. This time it's much closer to Beijing Opera - lots of twirling swords with tassles on the end. With such flexibility within the form as practised here, it seems odd that people are expressing concern about my preserving its integrity and authenticity: but I suppose the sense of ownership is important. Meijing, who laughs throughout this piece, talks about how interesting it is that all the Yue pieces are about women doing "male" things, like being generals or dressing as boys to become scholars or Prime Ministers. This is a theatre of feminism - and a much more telling one than China's Supergirl.

On Sunday afternoon I meet an actor called Zhou Ye Mang: a fascinating man in his late forties, who has spent a couple of years in Canada, and so speaks good English, but who is also deeply rooted in the history and culture of his home. He's worked with Richard Schechner (in Shanghai), and played Jerry in a Chinese version of Pinter's Betrayal. He's interested in the project, but concerned that he may not speak English well enough. I try to reassure him that the language barrier is part of the point, and we improvise some scenes which start to give him the idea. He acts wonderfully - no demonstrative histrionics at all. This is very promising. He talks about his interest in Western theatre as a way of freeing his creativity (I understand that!), and tells me about the "many tragedies" he knew during the Cultural Revolution. It's a powerful couple of hours - and I hope they will lead somewhere. It's always so hard to tell here: things don't seem to "settle" very easily.

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