Shakespeare’s historical play to head to China in February

By Sun Wei in London Source:Global Times Published: 2015-12-7 17:13:01

A scene from The Royal Shakespeare Company's Henry V Photo: AFP

Laying claim to parts of France following an insult from the French King, young King Henry calls on everyone to prepare for war with France.

Young Henry V is good at making strategies, commanding troops and wining the respect of his subordinates. Despite leading a much smaller army, he defeats the French army, forces the French King to sign a peace treaty and marries Princess Katherine of France to become heir to the country's throne.

This winter, London's theater district has been dominated by the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC)'s Henry V at the Barbican Centre. One of the most famous and influential of Shakespeare's historic plays, Henry V is believed to have been written in 1599. It tells the story of the Battle of Agincourt during the Hundred Years' War.

Recently it was announced that after Stratford-upon-Avon and London, this play by artistic director Gregory Doran will make its way to Chinese theaters early next year. Different from Shakespeare's popular comedies and tragedies, Henry V is a play focused on history. Lacking the comic actors and funny lines seen in Shakespeare's comedies and the dramatic irony in his tragedies, will Chinese audiences be able to accept such a serious play performed by an English troupe with Chinese subtitles?

Bringing Shakespeare to China

The Royal Shakespeare Company plans to take Henry V to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong in February, 2016. It is part of the troupe's "King & Country" tour to China, which will also see Gregory Doran's acclaimed productions of Shakespeare's Henry IV Part I and Henry IV Part II.  

"This is the first time that a history play will be introduced to China. Our job is to make the story clear. It's really fascinating to me. I am learning a lot and finding solutions," Doran told the Global Times.

"We would like to find new audiences for the works of Shakespeare produced by the RSC," Doran said, adding that 2016 will be a big year for fans of Shakespeare, as it is the 400th anniversary of his death.

While the RSC's tour to China is sure to make fans happy, what's more exciting is that the Chinese edition of Henry V, directed by the associate director of the English version Owen Horsley, will be staged in Shanghai in October of next year.

"Going out for a completely different culture and audience, it's going to be very exciting," Owen Horsley told the Global Times, adding that the play is more about human beings than about actual history.

Horsley said that after the February tour, he will remain in Shanghai for casting throughout March and May, and plans to start rehearsals in September. Horsley said he intends to use all his experience to explore collaborations with Chinese partners, study Chinese theatrical performance styles and the market, and talk with local actors and directors.

This push to bring more of Shakespeare's plays to China falls in line with the fact that Chinese in major cities have been watching more and more dramas, plays and musicals from Europe lately. There have also been more and more reproductions of classic Shakespearean works by Chinese directors and actors. However, cooperation between British directors and Chinese actors, such as Hoarsely is talking about, will be the first of its kind.

Collaborative projects

The "King & Country" tour to China is just one part of three projects the RSC is working on with Chinese partners. The other two are "The Shakespeare Folio Project" and "The Chinese Classics Project."

Xiang Xiaowei, Minister Counselor for Culture from the Chinese Embassy in the UK, said, "The announcement of the program couldn't come at a better time. During President Xi's visit, he has mentioned his impression of British literature, one of the names he mentioned was Shakespeare."

Xiang said, President Xi is very keen to see active collaboration when it comes to research about play writers that lived at the same time as Shakespeare, such as the famous Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) playwright Tang Xianzu.

Doran told the Global Times that the RSC is also interested in this type of research.

"It all began with a search we did in 2011, to find plays that were written around about the same time as Shakespeare, or plays being performed around the same time, or that reflected that period in which Shakespeare was alive. I came up with an old Penguin edition of The Orphan of Zhao from 1996. I thought this is a great play but a terrible translation. There must be another version of this play."

Eventually Doran found a better version of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) play, which the troupe adapted into an English play.

"By doing The Orphan of Zhao, we suddenly found ourselves with a lot of visitors from China and from theater companies in China interested in what we were doing."

The "Chinese Classics Project" soon followed. It aims to translate Chinese classics into English. Currently it has started putting the call out to academics and theater organizations in the UK and China.

Academics and troupes have been asked to put forward titles for consideration. The RSC's ambition is to explore and discover dramas written or performed in China during the centuries of Shakespeare's lifetime (the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) or those written later but reflect this era. 

Meanwhile, "The Shakespeare Folio Project" is dedicated to translating Shakespeare's works into Chinese. It is currently still in the pilot phase of working with Chinese translators, writers and theaters. The RSC will commission translations from Chinese writers and translators, who will work with the RSC during rehearsals. Chinese Shakespeare expert, Professor Zhang Chong, from Shanghai's Fudan University is currently translating Henry V with Nick Rongjun, an award-winning playwright, director of the Shanghai International Contemporary Theatre Festival, Vice-President of the Shanghai Performing Arts Group and deputy general manager of the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre.

According to Xiang the translation projects represent the very highest artistic and cultural values of both nations.

"Through theaters and playwrights, we will be able to forge a strong bond," he said.

Doran also holds a similar opinion of the projects.

"I profoundly believe that we foster deeper understanding between cultures by sharing and telling each other our stories," he said.
Newspaper headline: Henry is here

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