Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Last night, there were suddenly lots of important Chinese people at the show. A journalist from Dim-Sum, who interviewed Ruihong and myself; the publisher William Ong, who also runs the Pearl Awards (to which I've now been invited, tomorrow night), and Xinran, the author of The Good Women of China (a book which has been a huge inspiration to us), and of our web article and programme note.

After the show, Xinran and I faced the audience for another post-show discussion. No ordinary audience either: there were people from Yellow Earth, including the wonderful Veronica Needa who worked with us in Mappa Mundi; there were professors of Chinese from Imperial College; there were former cast members from CSSD - and Nick Williams, our Arts Council officer! So the warmth of Xinran's response was incredibly touching and important for us. She has just got back from a two-month research trip to China, where she has been interviewing older people for her next book, and our themes about the power and weight of Chinese history, about tensions between the generations (especially among women) and the essential role of "truth and reconciliation" in the development of new social orders for the 21st century, all seem incredibly immediate and potent to her. She tells us about shocking poverty she has seen in rural areas, about a family of seven sharing one pair of trousers, about people living on 2p a day; and she says that the "comic" moment when Ruihong in the wheelchair tells Tony's archetypal Westerner "I'm thirsty and hungry" made her weep with its simple truth.

This morning she sends an email, which I'll quote: "Last night I was invited to see and discuss Dis-Orientations, a production about culture crossing in modern Shanghai. It soaked my mind, which was struggling with how to come back to my family and MBL work in West, into an emotional Chinese daughter's, thirsty and hungry I have brought back from CW trip, again,again until NOW.

Go, to see it, with your family, if you are interested in Chinese culture, you have been China, you have Chinese friends in your life, or you are going to touch my historical country.

Dis-Orientations is a green field for your Brain Storm on Young China, it won't push you on a high way to a certain direction which normally other shows do - to guide you, understand what they want you to get: you will feel it and get the different story by your own background and your knowledge of China."

See also the Motherbridge website.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Yue workshop

On Saturday afternoon, Ruihong gave a workshop on Yue opera. There was a small select band of enthusiasts in Riverside Studio 3, and beforehand she wasn't at all sure what she was going to do. We sorted out a DVD player so she could show some extracts, and hung the costumes on a rail so they could be examined. None of which proved necessary.

For an astonishing two hours, Ruihong simply talked through William and Haili's translation, revealing and sharing her deep love for the form which she has made her life. She would stand and move through the space, demonstrating different movement styles which might be appropriate to different character types. She sang for us in a whole range of yue styles (there are 13, apparently), even giving us old-fashioned and more modern versions of the same melody - the newer ones have acquired more vibrato, as a result of the influence of western opera. She sang as female and male characters - the female voice is in the nose, the male in the throat. And so on. We sat spellbound. How often in your life do you get such a privilege?

Phyllida Lloyd came to see the play yesterday, and was full of praise afterwards (like most people, actually!). Tonight, Ruihong and Haili are going to see Mamma Mia! Fair exchange....

There's more press, including a nice article in Sing Tao daily (Chinese community paper), with a nice quote from Ke Yasha: "Through his facilitation in the last two years, this China-UK collaboration has resulted in this innovative production. Michael Walling's unique perspective on the Chinese psyche, changes in attitudes and morality, and the ongoing changes in cosmopolitan Shanghai highlights how Westerners perceive China. This China-UK co-production has further developed cross art form and intercultural collaboration. It enables mutual learning and understanding; and promotes dialogue between China and the West."

Friday, September 22, 2006

Everybody's Talking

Owen sends me a link to the Time Out website, where it seems we're the main object of discussion on the Theatre pages. The bulk of the comments are about how three stars aren't really enough for this work - which is very nice to hear! There's also a lot of positive discussion on Dimsum and What's on Stage. All very gratifying!

Alaknanda phones this morning to talk about the production, which she thinks is very beautiful, and a huge step forward in terms of our approach to making intercultural work. Her endorsement means so much to me - one of the world's great theatre professionals. And, of course, she's talking about another - Zhang Ruihong. Several of the messages on those websites are actually from Shanghai, where her fans are crying out to see what's she's achieved in this new way of working. I find that very humbling.

The Stage review appears tonight. At last somebody gives her credit for her amazing work. "The most glorious musical sounds ever heard at Riverside." That says it all.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Post-show discussions

We talked to the audience on Tuesday night. It was a very young, rather studenty group. Lots of questions about "themes". It's interesting to talk about this work with people who come from a literary perspective - it makes me realise for far we are from that approach to theatre, how very much we find our truths (if truths they are) through practical exploration of space, voice and the body, through the clash of different people, cultures and ways of making theatre in the anarchic open space of the rehearsal room. We're not making theatre which has decided what it wants to say before we say it: the meaning is only something that emerges at the end. I think this is actually something which empowers the audience - they become active in making the meaning too.

One of the people at the discussion was a journalist from Pink News, who has published his article today. It's written from a very clear, very specific perspective - and that's just fine. The one point he stretches is Shanbo's death: he doesn't die of grief because Yingtai turns out to be a woman - it's because she has to marry somebody else. I think the gender anarchy of Butterfly Lovers is actually MORE interesting if you look at the lovers' constant swapping of gender, both within the story and as performers. Like a Chinese As You Like It.

I get a lovely email from Angharad Wynn-Jones, the new director of LIFT. Here's what she says: "Dis-orientations is a revealing insight into the complexities of intercultural and same gender relationships in contemporary China. It is a richly complex production, with great performances from two singers from the Shanghai Yue Opera. I feel privileged to have seen it."

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Pressing On

The Press (sorry about the awful pun) is the key now. We know the show is good - everybody says so. The key thing is to tell people! It's one thing to market the work, which we've been doing for ages - but that only creates awareness. What gets the audience there is the knowledge that they'll see something really inspiring.

The press and marketing teams, the board, the venue, William and I have all been flat out doing PR these last few days. Already there are some reviews. There's one in Time Out today -

"brilliantly executed........ the cast is splendid too....... a culture shock worth experiencing"

There's also an online review in Rogues and Vagabonds.

You can read audience responses (and add your own!) at and

All very positive - fingers are crossed that this moves the tickets! Meantime we've also set up a second blog, dedicated to the production: it's different from this one, so check it out:

There's even a video clip! Enjoy!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Waiting for the Press

This bit is agony. We've done all we can - now we just have to wait. I can't imagine that anybody would write a bad review of this production: we've had such glowing responses from the audience and from our colleagues. But you never know. And, even if the reviews are good, will there be enough of them and will they be prominent enough? It was getting into Time Out's Critics Choice that really made Bullie's House: we're crossing fingers for the same thing again.

Angharad Wynn-Jones was in from LIFT on Saturday. Very excited by the work, by its intensity and its beauty. I feel so privileged to have made this piece with performers who have such incredible delicacy and truth to them. I just hope the ticket sales live up to their astonishing work.

First signs are promising, anyway. There are online reviews which glow very warm.....

That nice photo shows Haili and Tori, and was taken by Kathy Leung. There are more on the Dis-Orientations dedicated blog:

Friday, September 15, 2006

Up and Running

Dis-Orientations finally opened last night. The climax of two years' hard graft, one month's mind-boggling creativity, and four days of technical hell. That's not an insult to my wonderful technical team - it's just the nature of the beast. This is a very complex show in technical terms, and we were only able to start fitting it up on Monday morning. That meant we were faced with a technical rehearsal starting Tuesday lunchtime, with Mark plotting the lighting as we went along. I never really understand how Mark is able to extract such fluid beauty out of mayhem - but I guess that's been the nature of the whole process.

Stuff that happened:
  • we tried to re-lay the floor, but found ourselves using a thin silver material, which didn't glue properly, and ended up ripping and sliding around through Tuesday night. Inverted the floor and re-patched the original. Now it looks fine.
  • we discovered that Yueju is amplified. I hadn't realised (they must have brilliant sound technicians in Shanghai). Did the dress rehearsal and preview with Ruihong and Haili singing acoustically, which was pretty but not present enough. After phoning everybody I could think of, I was finally able to track down two radio mikes in time for the opening.......
  • we did the preview on Wednesday night as the third session of a day spent with press photo-calls, finishing the tech and doing a dress rehearsal. Very little time between dress and preview, so my notes had to be given by William running round the dressing rooms. Yesterday afternoon we had some real time, at last. We got to work the mikes, and to experiment with the vocal qualities of the space. I love sessions where I can work with the actors in the auditorium - giving them the sense of owning the whole theatre, rather than simply the stage.

First night was very exciting. A big house, with lots of guests in. Not enough critics, though the key one (Time Out) was there. Hopefully others will come on the back of it. Ruihong and I hosted a party afterwards, on behalf of the two companies. Ke Yasha was there from the Chinese Embassy, and was incredibly positive about the work. It looks as if going to China with this piece may be back on the cards.....

And now we must watch the reviews space!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Importance of Costume

I read the Guardian yesterday. In the main paper, there was a double-page photo spread on the thirtieth anniversary of Mao's death:,,1868373,00.html
and a full-page interview with a Chinese film director who's made a love story around Tiananmen Square,,1868415,00.html. All of which suggests that this work is very, very current indeed. I just hope the papers notice that we are also working with one of China's greatest artists, and that we are dealing with all those huge changes that have come over the country since the death of Mao, exactly thirty years ago. We're not courting controversy (as Lou Ye does): if anything our work will surprise people in its positive view of China - but we are very emphatically engaged with these issues, and (unlike any other company in the UK which has taken this on) we are working directly with people who are living through it on a daily basis. Which I think is worth a few more column inches than we've achieved so far. Press Night is this Thursday - Chloe's been working hard to get us a good crowd of critics. And I'm nervous again.

There's a huge amount of work to be done before that. We get in to the theatre tomorrow, and start the tech on Tuesday: it all has to be ready by the preview on Wednesday night. I decided to make use of Friday afternoon to deal with some of the technical issues around costume and make-up which we could sort out before we go to Riverside. Time well spent......

In the Asian theatre traditions, costume, wigs and make-up are far more important than they are in the West. They do much of the work that we expect of sets and lighting - and they are also a crucial part of the performer's journey towards the holy status s/he acquires on stage. The physical, visual transformation of the self into something beautiful and transcendent allows these performers the sense of embodying the mythic. Using Yueju within the play, we are also asking Ruihong and Haili to acquire this status within our piece - but we don't allow them the usual time and space to do it. The changes have to happen quickly to faciliate the doubling of the characters and the energy of the whole. We work together to try and make it possible - and it is not at all easy. But, with patience, we do get there. In a way, this tension between forms and expectations is itself part of the play's meaning: Chinese culture is traditionally, gloriously, about the long view. Today, it is plunged into the madly short-termist, ever changing world of global capitalism. I want this play to make a case for the contemplative, the holy, the spiritual in the midst of the mayhem - so it's incumbent on me to make space for it in our own process as well.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

First Run

Woke up with the butterflies again - and I don't mean Zhu Yingtai and Liang Shanbo. There's always that crux moment in rehearsal when you just have to run the play for the first time. Usually it's forced on me by the Lighting Designer needing to see it before the plan gets done. So - Mark was there today, as were Kath, Simon, and several people from Riverside. Try as we might to pretend this isn't an audience (and it isn't really - because they are all working on the show and have to be there), it adds something to the trepidation.

So - it's a delight when things start to go rather well. Hiccups from time to time, of course - like suddenly realising we've only rehearsed the language tape scene once, and that without our new sountrack - so there are bits where the whole thing looks like grinding to a halt. But the afternoon is spent sorting all that out. And, at last, we see the shape of what we've got.

It's emerging from its chrysalis - our butterfly. Beautiful and fragile. Maybe too beautiful and fragile - we're a bit scared that if we do anything rough we might break it. But that's the next stage, I think - to give it a recognisable contemporary edginess: an undercurrent of sexiness and violence that constantly threatens the delicacy. That's what this shifting relationship between the West and China has always been: an amalgam of erotic fascination and intense confrontation. In our little rehearsal room, which is a microcosm of these clashing worlds, we're finding a space which allows us to find ways of expressing that together.

In with a chance, I think.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Just a bit behind

With the lost morning, and the fact that there was a Bank Holiday last week, I feel we're just a little bit behind where we should be at this stage of rehearsals. Usually I like to run the lay most days during the final week of Studio rehearsals. But Monday is going to be devoted to recording voice-overs, and on Tuesday I'll still be putting together the overall staging. So there won't be a run till Wednesday morning: the last possible time for us to show the piece to Mark Doubleday and give him time to get his plan done ready for the get-in on the 11th.

Still, the play is now emerging in something like a performable shape. The styles seem to be melding, and the character lines are making sense. Several huge shifts from the first version, all of them positive. There are still swathes of it which make no sense to the cast - and won't until the technical things are in place. Ieng Un asks me how the audience will know that he is playing Mme. Mao in the Peace Hotel scene. He's quite right to ask, of course - how's he to know that there's a projected text? These are the areas where I have to rely on my imagination to envision it as a whole.

Some positive developments in admin too. William Wong, my assistant director, has managed to bring the International Herald Tribune on board as a media partner: which is an in-kind equivalent of about £20K worth of advertising. On the other hand, I feel we need it: there's not been much in the press yet. Guy points out that all the arts journalists and critics are still in Edinburgh, which is true..... I just hope they don't all decide to take a holiday before they come back. We've got so far - now we need this to be seen.