Friday, October 08, 2010

Opening in China

There's a scene in the show about a Swedish company having a very difficult technical rehearsal in Shanghai. Art has been blending with life for the last few days..... Much of the problem is language, of course - but it really didn't help matters when our video camera disappeared, when the person operating the supertitles only arrived on the day of the show, and when Lloyd cut his hand open to the bone and needed surgery..... !

Anyway - we got there, and finally reached the climax of two years' work last night, when we played to a packed house of Chinese people. It was, of course, a completely different experience from performing in London. To begin with, the piece seemed less funny and more elusive - the style was clearly something very new for them, and they took time to respond. Qi's scenes with Mia got the laughter going - and this led to a really powerful sense of emotion as the play moved into more specifically Chinese areas of concern. The montage of Sammy's family history was incredibly powerful - and so was the story of Tsrui-hua and the abandoned baby.

We'd had some discussion of the ending before the show. Nick Yu was concerned that it might be controversial - apparently a play was banned a few years ago for its portrayal of traditional rituals surrounding death. The powers that be decided that this was "encouraging superstition", and so not appropriate to the image of a modern, "progressive" society. As so often, China wrong-footed me: I'd have expected concern over references to sexuality, to the single-child policy and the Cultural Revolution - but I'd never imagined that a scene about spiritual tradition could be considered sensitive. But, of course, it is. And the reason I like the scene - its affirmation of the value of these practices for today - is exactly the reason why. In China, the spiritual is political.

We (by which I mean the Chinese actors and myself, consulting with Nick) decided that we should keep the scene as it stands. So we were very aware of the resonances when it began. Jue said her line about "In my country, people believe...", and started to show the rituals - and the laughter grew louder and louder. Laughter not of mockery but of recognition. Even of celebration. Delicious, joyous, celebration.

What a wonderful night.

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