Saturday, February 14, 2009

Chinese viewpoints

One aspect of play 3 which has really interested me as it develops is the focus on children. I suppose it's because Alex - Julian and Marie's daughter - dies in play 2, so there's an inevitable concern with parent-child relationships. And perhaps it all reflects on my own subconscious too - the fact that my children are greater and greater presences in my life and my mind as they grow up and acquire personality. It seems strange for a sequence of plays which so far has placed so much emphasis on same-sex relationships to talk so much about parenting - but the third play is spinning off from the other two with a centrifugal force that makes it wider in its focus. For one thing, it is now set in both China and India - and it may also take in England and Sweden too. I'm resisting all temptations to lead it towards closure, and particularly trying to avoid any neat coincidences.

Thinking about children made us wonder about the single-child policy here in China. I asked the two Chinese female actors, Song Ru Hui and Wang Jue, to improvise a scene in which a young mother gives up her child for adoption, and they dutifully did so. It was rather good - cold and bureaucratic. Then Hui said, through our interpreter Ling, that this was not a realistic scene for China. Why not? Because in China, you cannot give up a child to be adopted - the only adopted children are orphans. But that can't be true - I argued - because there are so many children from China adopted into western families, and they are all girls. That, it turns out, is because these are children who have been abandoned. I ask Jue to improvise a solo scene of a young mother leaving her baby girl by the road-side. She does - it's incredibly distressing.

Tony Guilfoyle and I ask Ling to make it clear to the Chinese actors that this is not a case of us having a go at their culture - we are genuinely curious about their world, and we want to know how it works and how we can relate to it. We ask whether we will be able to show a scene like this in China. "Of course!" comes the reply. According to these actors, there is a genuine desire here for theatre which tackles cultural and social questions head-on: in marked contrast to our western view of a heavily censored state. They become, not for the first time this week, very animated and inspired - telling us about different social initiatives around orphans, gender questions, HIV prevention.... In just a few days, they have really taken on board the extent to which, as actors devising this work, they have an authorial power and responsibility within it.

Exciting times!

The day off is Saturday - because it's Valentine's Day and our room is in use for a bash. Funny how the fate of an obscure Roman saint now dominates global romantic partying. We take advantage of it, and hit town on a Friday night, combining research and relaxation. Nancy, Tori, Mia and I find a horribly deserted girlie bar on Julu Lu, with perky young women trying way too hard to interest the few sultry men. Not exactly the image of the Whore of the Orient which Shanghai used to have - although I'm assured by the Chinese male actors that there are lap-dancing joints and strip-clubs all over the city, if you know where to look. We move on to a heaving, slightly posh joint, where there are loads of well-heeled ex-pats and glum-looking Chinese women in glamorous frocks. There are one or two transvestites too.....

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