Hugo Award-winning novel debuts multi-million budget stage adaptation

By Sun Shuangjie in Shanghai Source:Global Times Published: 2016-6-2 19:28:01

Author Liu Cixin Photo: Courtesy of Zoey Zha

After years of anticipation, the first reimagining of Chinese sci-fi writer Liu Cixin's novel The Three-body Problem, winner of Best Novel at the 2015 Hugo Awards, has finally debuted. On Wednesday night, a multi-media stage drama adaptation produced by Lotus Lee Drama Studio opened at the Shanghai Culture Square. After watching the show, Liu, who serves as production supervisor, called it an astounding experience for the eyes. 

Stage FX

In order to realize the imaginative scenes from the book, the drama spent more than 10 million yuan ($1.52 million) on advanced stage technology, such as 3D mapping and hovering drones. The first in a series, the drama only covers the first book from Liu's Three-Body Trilogy, which has become one of the most popular sci-fi series in China in decades.

"Drama has been a time-honored art with thousands of years of history, while sci-fi is very modern and often talks about a new upcoming world. Combine them together and you get a great chemical reaction," Liu said.

"It's very impressive to see these sci-fi scenes being reproduced on the stage through this technology, which is more powerful than what I've seen on TV or cinema screens," the 52-year old Liu said, also noting that before the show he hadn't seen a theater production for some 39 years.

Indeed, the special effects during the two-hour show were quite incredible, as the 3D projections on different layers of transparent screens create vivid and impressive settings. The award for most impressive goes to an enormous simulated boat, which marches towards the front of the stage while being disintegrated by a blade-like force.

However, the usage of drones falls below expectations. The effects team used a dozen drones to make three balls look like three orbiting stars, but in reality the three balls only shook for a while in the air, which made things appear a bit clumsy.

Slight alteration

The show follows most of the original storyline while offering a big twist not found in the book during the latter half. The story revolves around scientist Wang Miao, who with the help of police Shi Qiang, gradually becomes involved with a secret organization known as the Three-body. The organization was founded by Ye Wenjie, an old scientist who sent signals to an extraterrestrial civilization decades ago during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) in the hopes that the aliens can come and save humanity from itself.

The sequence of the story has been slightly altered from the book, as the show doesn't start with Wang Miao, but overall the story should still satisfy book readers. 

In an earlier interview with the Global Times, the play's director Liu Fangqi said he was most impressed by the book's capacity to provoke people to think about the universe and human existence, and obviously, he wanted to bring this to the play.

The most powerful scenes in the drama include one that takes place during the Cultural Revolution, when Ye's father, a famous physicist, is knocked down and beaten by a crowd who yell at him the entire time. The frantic scene really plucks the heartstrings.

However, the unexpected twist in the latter half of the show, may not please all of Liu's fans.

It establishes  an extra storyline involving Ye and her husband Yang Weining, which tries to humanize the character but turns out to be barely persuasive or interesting.

As to the cast, Gao Qichang, who plays Shi Qiang, offers the most natural performance, while Yang Ziyi, who plays Ye Wenjie, does an excellent job playing the character in her senior years.

The play is scheduled to stay in Shanghai until June 11, after which it will move on to other Chinese cities for some 100 performances.

A film adaptation of Liu's Three-Body Trilogy is currently being produced.

Newspaper headline: Three-body drama

Posted in: Theater

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