Promotional material for The Handan Dream (Photo/Courtesy of Guangzhou Dramatic Arts Center)
The classic Chinese play The Handan Dream produced by the Guangzhou Dramatic Arts Center (GDAC) is currently gracing the stage at the Hackney Empire in London until Sunday.
The Handan Dream was written by Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) Chinese playwright Tang Xianzu, who is often called the "Shakespeare of the East." Tang is famous for his quartet of plays known as the Four Dreams of the Jade Tea Hall: The Peony Pavilion, The Purple Hairpin, A Dream Under the Southern Bough and The Handan Dream.
The Guangzhou Dramatic Arts Center's version of The Handan Dream was created in 2016, when China and Britain marked the 400th anniversary of the deaths of Tang and William Shakespeare.
Director Wang Xiaodi's new version combines fantastic visual effects, experienced performers and fashionable costume design to overcome language barriers and bring an authentic Chinese experience to international audiences.
Wang, also the artistic director of GDAC, told the Global Times, "It's very exciting to show Chinese play to a UK audience. I hope that British audiences can appreciate the aesthetics of China, with its 5,000-year-old culture and history. The Chinese art style is very different. Through the performance, audiences will get a taste of the Chinese concept of beauty."
Chen Zhirong, a marketing executive with GDAC, told the Global Times that in order to help British audiences to better understand the play, the performance is being presented in Chinese with English subtitles.
Chen said that to better prepare the show in London and understand the British art market, GDAC worked and cooperated closely with UK artists during the preparation period.
"We hope The Handan Dream will open the door for further cooperation between theaters in China and Britain," Chen added.
"It is like a dream and yet it is no dream," Wang explained that the visual effect were the most fascinating part of the play. She used a simple and freehand stage style for the overall tone, and tried to show the contradictions and complexities of human nature through exaggerated costumes.
The play pays tribute to Tang Xianzu by retaining the original lyrics, while combining the elements of traditional Chinese opera with creative ideas adopted from modern dramas.
Peking Opera master Guan Dongtian was also brought in to star in the drama as well.
In order to highlight the difference between the dreams and realities in the story, the new version pays attention to details such as the style of clothing worn in different scenes.
The costumes were designed by famous Chinese stage designer Li Ruiding, one of the lead costume designers for the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and the closing ceremonies for the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou and the Shanghai "APEC" conference.
The play was well received in St. Petersburg, Russia when it debuted there last year. Wang said he believed that the core value of the play was its aesthetics, which he said can transcend the boundaries of time and belongs to all mankind.