LAST MONTH, while I was watching the first half of Dangkamon Na Pombejra’s new production of “The Merchant of Venice”, the same question I’d been asking myself for many years popped back into my mind – Why are Thai artists not having as much fun with Shakespeare as their foreign counterparts? Is it because we were not colonised and haven’t done enough Shakespeare to depart from the original?
The memory of “Venice” vanished as soon as I finished watching Shakespeare’s Wild Sisters Group’s “Blood and Rose Ensemble” at Esplanade Theatre Studio, as part of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay’s “Huayi: Chinese Festival |of Arts”, held every year a week |after Chinese New Year.
A co-commission of the Esplanade and its Taiwanese counterpart National Theatre and Concert Hall, this work is a comic romp that seems to be based on the idea that Shakespeare cannot be our contemporary unless we find ways to show that his works are relevant to us, more than four centuries later.
Audiences who have been to the Durian know well that the use of mobile phone is strictly prohibited here. Even when one takes a photo of the curtain call, an usher will immediately approach him/her and ask for it to be deleted on the spot. The venues do not have wireless or phone signals. That wasn’t the case for this show as wireless signal was provided and audience members were not only allowed but also encouraged to take photos and share them with their friends elsewhere. That wasn’t the only inviting part of this show, performed in Mandarin and some Chinese dialects with English surtitles: the set with platforms that crisscrossed the studio also connected the play to audience effectively.
Adapted from “Henry VI, Parts I, II and III” as well as “Richard III”, the show’s narrative was clear – and the chronology was also printed in the programme booklet – and made every possible attempt to link, with dialogues, props, and songs, with the contemporary world. History was never this much fun. Many performers not only performed more than one role but also provided narration and extra comments, added sound effects and played some musical instruments – truly an “ensemble”. The atmosphere was occasionally like a concert or a party.
One could argue that it wasn’t Shakespeare’s play we watched here, but then he died more than four centuries ago, didn’t he?
The writer wishes to thank Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay’s See Ling Ling for all kind assistance.
UPCOMING ON THE TWO ISLANDS
Shakespeare’s Wild Sisters Group’s “Dear Life”, an adaptation of a short story by Nobel laureate Alice Munro, is from March 23 to 25 at the National Theatre, as part of the annual “Taiwan International Festival of Arts”. Visit www.TIFA.NPAC-NTCH.org; book tickets at www.ArtsTicket.com.tw. To keep track of this group, www.swsg95.com.tw www.swsg95.com.tw.
At the Esplanade—Theatres on the Bay American Ballet Theatre’s “Swan Lake”, is being staged Thursday to Sunday; and the National Theatre’s (UK) “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”, from March 29 to April 8. For more details, www.Esplanade.com; tickets at www.Sistic.com.