Shanghai’s Twisted Carousel Theatre to stage new tragicomedy

By Louise Ho Source:Global Times Published: 2016-5-26 18:13:01

Expat theater group Twisted Carousel Theatre will be taking the Shanghai stage again for their second play Heroes, adapted from English playwright Tom Stoppard's story of the same name, which in turn was based on the French play Le Vent de Peupliers by Gerald Sibleyras.

Set in 1959, Heroes follows three WWI veterans, Gustave, Philippe and Henri, who spend their monotonous lives in a home for retired soldiers reflecting on their glorious past. Gustave's new plan for an escape, however, shakes up their routine. Will they be able to make it out?

Directed by Shanghai expatriate Julien Bertrand and starring fellow expats Curt Mabry, Mark Edwards and Paul Collins, the play follows the troupe's success of last year's The Devil's Fables. The Global Times talked to Bertrand before the play opens this weekend to discuss his adaptation of this play and dish on the expat theater scene in Shanghai.

Q: Why did you choose to adapt Heroes for Twisted Carousel Theatre's second program?

JB: This show is very different from last year's The Devil's Fables. Lexi (Alexia Kalteis, our producer) and I went ahead because of our strong friendship, but above all because all the actors and crew involved are extremely talented people that we have great faith in. The story is very decent, something that is lacking in Shanghai. It is a multilayered tragicomedy, which is something quite new for Shanghai.

Q: How is your version different from Tom Stoppard's?

JB: Stoppard adapted his text from a French play called The Wind in the Poplars and worked alongside French playwright Gerald Sibleyras. We never departed from his script; the French touch is still present, although we have focused less on the heavy-handed symbolism of the English version and more on the subtle humor that Stoppard masterfully adapted from one language to the other.

Q: How did you find your cast? What do they bring to the stage?

JB: I knew all three from their work onstage in previous productions and was impressed by their range, passion and commitment. Curt Mabry (Gustave) is larger than life and magnifies everything in dramatic ways. His background in children's TV, theater and improv (he is the head of Zmack Improv Comedy Shanghai) offers a touch of poetry and sensitivity that I rarely see in actors here. Gustave is a challenging character to embody, full of contradictions, pretense and genuine pain. Curt rises up to the challenge.

Mark Edwards (Henri) is one of the humblest actors I've worked with. He will effortlessly jump into the action and follow direction. His experience on Shanghai's stages is invaluable. Mark's refined and quirky take on life fuels the inspiration for Henri's odd life choices (love, travel) and wants everyone to "be happy," in spite of his squared-off existence.

Paul Collins is a natural. His northern lilt gives paranoid Philippe a perfectly-dosed touch of insane. Philippe adds physical comedy to the play and also delivers some of the funniest lines. It's all about intonation and timing, and Paul nails it.

Q: How do you portray war veterans from WWI?

JB: The year is 1959 and these three WWI veterans are over 60 years old. It was a challenge for me to offer a caricature of old people. Stoppard's script helps understand the realistic complexity of physically (and emotionally) impaired men who, behind the surface of their advanced age, refuse to grow old. One could say the play is about these three men coming to terms with their limitations. Still, they are not "miserable sods." In their minds, they are still young, eccentric and slightly deranged. I think Sibleyras wanted to talk about old people in general, but this generation of forgotten soldiers is given a poetic voice.

Q: There are several expat theater groups in Shanghai. How are you different from the others? And what do you think in general about the expat stage scene here?

JB: I think each specific project (rather than group) brings about different styles, talents and collaborations. Our community is growing fast, although for such a huge place as Shanghai, I find that the stage actor community is not that big. Many people jump from one production to the other depending on their availability and skills, and many new talents arrive every year. I think more than anything else we need more communication and collaboration between the groups.

Q: Anything else about Heroes you want to add?

JB: I love how Heroes is funny, yet honest and truthful about old people. Although many times surreal, the play deals with such themes as loneliness, death, love, friendship, memories, health and, above all, dreams. So keep dreaming, people!

Twisted Carousel Theatre's Heroes

Date: May 26-28, 8:30 pm; May 28 & 29, 4 pm


Address: Rooftop, 668 Huaian Road (near Xisuzhou Road)

Tickets: 180 yuan in advance/200 yuan at the door

Available at: Cambio Coffee, Cotton's, Shanghai Comedy Club, Zmack shows. For reservations please contact

Director of the play Julien Bertrand


(From left) Mark Edwards as Henri, Paul Collins as Philippe and Curt Mabry as Gustave in Heroes presented by the Twisted Carousel Theatre

Photos: Courtesy of Twisted Carousel Theatre

Newspaper headline: Heroes

Posted in: Metro Shanghai

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