PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 January, 2007, 12:00am


Beijing People's Art Theatre

Kwai Tsing Theatre

Reviewed: Jan 20

A highlight of this year's Chinese Drama Festival, this production of Lao She's classic Teahouse didn't disappoint. Director Lin Zhaohua's take on the 1957 play is traditional in approach but contemporary in interpretation. The piece is free of cliches, pacey and engaging.

Teahouse chronicles three turbulent periods in modern Chinese history: the end of the Qing Dynasty; the initial years of the Republic of China; and shortly after the end of the Japanese occupation. The changing times are seen through the eyes of teahouse owner Wang Lifa (played by Liang Guanhua) and his customers.

In the first period, China feels both intrigued and threatened by foreign powers, as western traders and missionaries begin to set foot on her soil. A distant ringing of church bells is heard, which to the locals is as novel as pocket watches and snuff bottles made in England.

But ordinary people are more concerned with their daily livelihood. The corrupt Qing government has left the country impoverished and peasants often have to sell their children to make ends meet. 'A dog born in the city leads a better life than those living in the countryside,' says one of Wang's customers.

The regulars (mostly men) at the teahouse are a bunch of colourful characters from all strata of the society. The rest of this three-act drama charts their rise and fall and ultimate demise.

Lao's work echoes Chekhov's Cherry Orchid, in which the old inevitably makes way for the new. It's also a rich drama that straddles three interesting historical periods.

Stage veterans Wang, Pu Cunxin (playing an upright old man who has lost his fortune) and Yang Lixin (a hard-nosed industrialist) were the soul of the production. The cast projected themselves remarkably well in the cavernous, 950-seat venue.