Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bullfrog, Tortoise, Jellyfish and Snails

Those are just four of the things I've eaten since being in China. Most of them down to a banquet-like event last night with Zhao Zhigang, the Vice-President of the Yue Opera Company, and, that rare phenomenon, a male Yueju performer. I remember him coming to London a few years back, as part of the In Gesture and Glance season at the Place, when I was just beginning to research this Trilogy. He tells me that it felt a bit odd that he, a man, was being asked to represent the traditionally all-female form, and that he needed to do it as if he were a female xiaosheng performer. All very confusing! The reason for meeting him is to talk through our relationship with the Yue company - Haili has suggested I have a talk with him before meeting the really senior people, since he is very frank. It's helpful to have his advice on strategies and his cautions.

Meanwhile, the workshop moves on very creatively. We had a bit of a dip in the middle of the day, when the room got insanely cold, and we were working on more textual ideas. But there is some terrific stuff emerging. Of our Chinese actors, Qi Bai Xue is beginning to develop the character of Sammy from Dis-Orientations in really endearing and inspiring new directions; and Song Ru Hui is (appropriately enough) taking on Song, and allowing her to become more mature, as she should in her grief and loss. Wang Jue is making a new character, Sammy's sister, and is finding a really strong story around her husband deciding they have to abandon their baby. The husband is being played by Wen Xiao Wei, who is a very physical performer. Today, he and Huang Chen found a wonderful way into a scene of ritualised mourning - beginning as two young lads in a bar telling Julian about rituals, laughing and joking at it perceived old-fashioned absurdity, they slowly began to be taken over by the power of the thing. It's amazingly moving. The scene grows to take in other people - as have most of the really strong pieces in the play so far. It's the simultaneous telling of multiple stories that will make this work really well.

Great to be surrounded by a larger directorial team: Mahesh, Denise, Micha and Ling are all invaluable to me. I wonder how I ever managed devised pieces on my own. Well - maybe I didn't!

And by the way - tortoise is cooked in the shell, which is then smashed. It tastes a bit like runny lamb. Not unpleasant once you get used to it.

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