Actors excel in exhausting hybrid roles

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 October, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 October, 1995, 12:00am

TAIWAN'S U Theatre transported its mountain-top experience to the Arts Centre in two short drama pieces, Water Mirror and Falling Leaves, and added a drum performance between the two plays.

The performance successfully demonstrated the strict discipline and excellent physical co-ordination of the actors who played out their exhausting roles with astonishing dexterity and zen-like austerity.

The Water Mirror was the more accomplished piece.

It successfully brought together elements of Taiwanese puppet theatre as well as Japanese kabuki, Chinese opera, and Western avant-garde physical theatre to create an integrated and original theatrical experience.

Although conceived of high up in the mountain where the group lives and performs, Water Mirror is a politically committed piece which re-examines the whole controversial notion of 'homeland'.

The actors' movements ranged from the very graceful to the very passionate, a fascinating hybrid of Chinese opera and the movement of puppets.

The most memorable image of the evening was when an excellent Lady Cai, in white mask and scarlet robe, stood in front of a black backdrop. Through a hole in the backdrop the white mask of a devil messenger appeared.

As he harangued her, the whole backdrop rippled and heaved like a turbulent sea, creating a sensational visual and dramatic effect.

The performance on drums built its effect on contrast.

It began with a meditative zen-like quietness with faint, seemingly random drum strokes which sounded uncannily like dripping water.

Then the beat became more unified and passionate, building up to an intense climax, an abrupt pause, and a sudden resumption towards a celebratory end.

One problem with the performance, particularly noticeable in the last piece, was the introduction of naturalistic drama elements and mime into a wholly aesthetic and expressive dance movement theatre.

The introduction of real objects was rather messy and detracted from the main action - the movement being functional rather than aesthetic.

There was also the feeling that the performance shrank in stature somewhat by being performed indoors rather than in its usual outdoor setting.

On the whole, though, it was an absorbing evening which showcased the many impressive skills of the performers.

Water Mirror and Falling Leaves ; U Theatre; Arts Centre