Summer of our content

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 June, 2012, 12:00am


After the drought, the deluge. Or that's what it felt like after a lengthy absence of Asian faces on the stages and screens of Britain when an entire brace of Chinese theatre companies (not one but TWO; count 'em!) arrived for London's World Shakespeare Festival at the Globe Theatre.

Multiple curtain calls before near-capacity houses, including a large and appreciative Chinese contingent, demonstrated the extent of the demand.

The National Theatre of China's sizzling Richard III, in Putonghua, had several audience members (myself included) looking out for parallels with the Bo Xilai scandal. The Kremlinologists among us wondered how the official troupe would deal with a story about an upstart heir to the throne who rabble-rouses and power-plays his way to the top, over-reaches himself and then comes a cropper. Search as we might, we couldn't find a clue.

Tricky Dicky 3 nearly became a comedy of errors as a tempest at sea stranded the company's lavish costumes on a ship in the English Channel, but they still looked mahvellous, dwahlinks, in their borrowed finery.

There wasn't a crown in sight during Hong Kong director Tang Shu-wing's minimalist Cantonese Titus Andronicus, perhaps the goriest of Shakespeare's tragedies. No, not the one with the eye-gougings: it's the one that's famous for the queen being tricked into eating her children baked in a pie; a rape; amputations; tongue removal; murders; foolish old men, wicked women and a lorry-load of injustice. Hmm, no Bo analogies there, either.

Kicking off in their long-johns, the tribes were identifiable by their plain black or grey attire (Queen Tamora's Goths in black, natch!), reminiscent of the Mao suits from ye olden days.

Tang's group is known for its physicality, so the show was topped and tailed by qigong exercises and some business with chairs.

I found out exactly how vital the qi element is to Tang's training when I took part in his one-off workshop. He got us breathing deeply, focusing on our tan tien and circling our qi. Exploring sound, expression, gesture and space displacement, we eventually partnered up for an exercise by numbers. Steps, gestures and seconds were counted off in an initially bewildering set of instructions.

My partner, the lovely Lai Yuk-ching, who played Lavinia in Titus, grasped it in moments while I beach-whaled myself through the exercise, trying to avoid the gaze and cameras of the dozen or so observers, until it all flowed together, emotions rose and suddenly I was acting. Now that is magic.