Friday, February 19, 2010

Post-colonial Scotland, post-revolutionary China

Nisha and I saw David Greig's new play for the RSC at Hampstead. It's called Dunsinaine, and begins with the English army advancing towards the castle with branches in hand. So we're definitely post-Macbeth. I remember when we did Macbeth in Mauritius being interested by the fact that the colonialism actually comes at the end of the play, with Malcolm being swept into kingship by conquering forces. Most post-colonial productions, especially in Africa, make Macbeth the Mugabe-figure - but it's actually a bit more complex than that. Greig's play is concerned with the next stage - and the analogy with Iraq and even Afghanistan is very clear. You go in to topple a tyrant, you put in a puppet ruler, and the country degenerates into chaos.

My other little cultural treat this week was a Chinese film from 1964, called Two Stage Sisters. I went to see it because it's about Yueju, and Yueju before the Revolution at that. The film begins in the 30s, with a group of travelling performers in the countryside, and moves to Shanghai during the war years, ending after the establishment of the PRC. It was fantastic to spot the locations - especially the Peace Hotel and the wonderful Yi Fu Theatre - still today much as it was in the 40s. The revolutionary iconography is fascinating: early on, there's a moment when the main actress is strapped to a post, dressed in red, in a clear echo of The Red Detachment of Women, and near the end she's seen performing The White-Haired Girl. It's hardy subtle stuff: the last line is "Let us re-educate ourselves diligently, and always perform revolutionary operas". And yet, this film was banned in the Cultural Revolution. Apparently the fact that the performer who buys into decadence and capitalism is forgiven and re-habilitated was considered corrupt.

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