Sunday, 29 April 2012

Murdering in Mandarin.

Up to London for the day. With all the work going into Cabbages and Kings I hadn't really noticed that the Globe's season of 37 plays in 37 different languages had begun. It's an interesting cultural experiment. On one level a wonderful celebration of Shakespeare's international currency, on another a reassertion of the bard as a cultural icon, putting the 'Great' into Britain during Jubilee and Olympic year.

Tonight it was the turn of the Beijing based National Theatre of China to bring their version of Richard III. I was pleased to catch it. Even though the Peking Opera style costumes and set had failed to make the journey, remaining stuck on a container ship somewhere in the North Sea.

When the brochure for the season came out there was a frisson of excitement to see a Chinese company take on this great play about the dangerous nature of totalitarianism. An early publicity photo revealed a picture of Richard in a communist party uniform, adding additional expectation of subversion.

In the end the work was crisp, direct, occasionally funny, but veered safely towards the symbolic rather than a direct criticism of the current situation in China. This didn't detract though from some superb performances and beautiful moments.

Each murder was represented by a light piece of black material being thrown over the victims head. It floated down, like a butterfly landing on a flower. No human touch or responsibility - just another disappearance from the stage.

 Zhang Dongyu was brilliant as Richard, charming persuasive and surprisingly agile. His deformity was ambition, invisible for most of the play, but revealed in moments of expressionistic tableau. It was a highly effective and rather brilliant interpretation of a charming, quick witted man fighting his own mind, rather than, as is the orthodoxy in European productions of the play, his body.

At the end of an emotional evening. This wonderful actor theatrically knelt and kissed the Globe's stage. It clearly meant a huge amount to this remarkable company to be offered the opportunity to bring their version of the play, home to Southwark.

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