China and the UK come together to celebrate their greatest playwrights

By Sun Wei in London Source:Global Times Published: 2016/7/4 18:18:00

UK students rehearse an adaptation of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) playwright Tang Xianzu's A Dream Under the Southern Bough on June 17 at the University of Leeds in the UK. Photo: Courtesy of Malcolm Johnson

Students in Beijing and Yorkshire will come together to perform contemporary adaptations of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and Tang Xianzu's A Dream Under the Southern Bough in Leeds later this month.

The initiative is part of "William Shakespeare and Tang Xianzu: Celebrating a 400 Year Legacy," a unique international collaboration project organized by the University of Leeds to commemorate famous playwrights Shakespeare and Tang, both of whom died 400 years ago.

The project, which sees Chinese students from the University of International Business and Economics in China working on an English play and British students from Leeds on a Chinese play, is meant to encourage the interaction between the stage traditions of both countries.

Based on the original plays and working with the overarching theme of "dreaming," students and staff from the two universities will create their own unique works.

Li Ruru, a professor of Chinese Theater Studies at Leeds, is one of those leading the Anglo-Chinese theatrical project.

"The project is making people think about the value and relevance of two classic plays in contemporary society and will also enhance cultural exchanges between China and the UK," Li told the Global Times.

Li went on to explain that Shakespeare and his Chinese contemporary Tang are considered to be the greatest playwrights of their respective countries.

"Their plays make us weep, laugh and imagine; they also touch our hearts and souls," she said, adding that the project has been a genuine intercultural exchange that has proved both thought-provoking and a great pleasure for everyone involved.

The performances have been scheduled to appear at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe through August 5-13, and in major cities in China including Beijing, Shanghai and Fuzhou, Tang's birthplace, from September 15 to 25.

The collaboration will also feature a series of lectures, workshops and cultural exchanges.

Steve Ansell, artistic director of the University's stage@leeds theater, co-wrote the new productions with his School of Performance and Cultural Industries colleague Dr. Adam Strickson and is also directing the productions.

Ansell stated that A Midsummer Night's Dream and A Dream Under the Southern Bough both take "dreaming" as their theme, which he said can bring Shakespeare and Tang - as well as Britain and China - together.

Pointing out that Tang is actually not that well-known in China, the commemoration of his passing involves the nation rediscovering, admiring and getting excited about its own cultural heritage again, and by doing so, showing the world what an incredibly diverse, rich and deep culture it has as opposed to stereotyped images of China, Ansell added.

Chinese President Xi Jinping endorsed the concept of a joint celebration of both playwrights during his visit to the UK last October.

"China and the UK can join in celebrating the legacies of these two literary giants, to promote interpersonal dialogue and deepen mutual understanding," Xi told guests at a dinner hosted by the Lord Mayor of London.

"Just like how British people can talk about Shakespeare day and night, Chinese people also have endless fascination for Tang Xianzu," Professor Huang Zhenlin, an expert on Tang at the East China Institute of Technology, told the Global Times.

Huang said that although Tang was not a professional playwright, his obsession with theater and outstanding talent made him an unmatched figure in the history of Chinese theater.

The complete version of Tang's A Dream Under the Southern Bough is rarely performed, and when it is it tends to be divided up into several performances.

Compared to Tang's most famous play Peony Pavilion, which has often been called the "Romeo and Juliet of the East," A Dream Under the Southern Bough is more complex and indirect with its message.

Ansell said that reading the text, "I was struck by how like Shakespeare the text actually was and that perhaps it could be read as a piece of spoken word drama, rather than as a piece of Kunju opera."

In this way this masterpiece might finally get the praise it deserves within the canon of Tang's work, he added.

Newspaper headline: Dream connection

Posted in: Theater

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