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CURTAIN CALL: Wow! Theater is back
From THAT'S SHANGHAI February 2008 Print & Web Edition

By Mina Choi


2007 has been a magnificent year for theater in Shanghai. It was the year of a great outburst of cultural energy not seen since the mid 1980s. To celebrate this unstoppable flow of creative juices, Shanghai Dramatic Art Center on Anfu Road changed the name of its annual Asia Contemporary Theatre Festival to Creative Asia, loudly declaring that theater was now taking back the limelight from film and television as the frontier of imagination. Included in the November festival program were fascinating shows like Gilgamesh, from the Uncle Semolina and Friends Company in Australia, a new interpretation of a 4,000-year old epic using modern devices such as telephone and superhero dolls.

Then there was Cao Qiqiao, a Taiwanese production based on Eileen Zhang’s Story of the Golden Lock, about a repressed woman futilely seeking to assert power in a cruel feudal society. Presented in disturbing and erotic vaudeville style, Cao Qiqiao declared itself ‘a Beijing opera forgery’ but in fact was the most titillating production of the year with dark elements and melancholic songs impossible to forget. Then, there was Drift, a Singapore-Shanghai co-production that explored what it meant to be Chinese, for both mainlanders and for the Chinese diaspora. As the director commented, “Everybody is seeking something, but they don’t know what it is.”

All the productions pushed the boundaries of theater by integrating multi-media, video, and even fine arts to show the audience how live theater can show up even the largest flat-screen television with surround sound.

Not to be outdone, Beijing sent down a few shows: one from a celebrated director Meng Jinghui called Two Dogs, a commentary on migrant laborers' relationship to privileged city dwellers, but cleverly disguised as a tale of two dogs. The dog metaphor started in Shanghai, however, with Nick Rongjun Yu’s Dog Face, a wordless physical comedy that showed the terrible mindless routine that the urban white-collar workers submitted to for the sake of a hukou, pension, and a nice apartment.

The Grand Theater and the Majestic had their own share of major productions: The Scholar and the Assassin, a period tale of a scholar during the turn of the 20th century who has to find a new career when the imperial exam system is abolished. Playing in February again is the hit play, Love in Peach Blossom Land, which tells the tale of two competing troupes and their interpretation of a Chinese classic. Due to its popularity, this play will run again in February 2008, but rumors say that all the tickets are already sold out.

The box-office winners of 2007 were Brothers adapted from the Yu Hua’s hit novel and Two Dogs at the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center. Also, Shanghai got to see for the first time productions of 42nd Street and Mamma Mia, at the Majestic and at the Concert Hall respectively.

In February, Agatha Christie’s classic play Mousetrap, retitled, “And Then There Were None” is playing at SDAC, and so is Shanghai Wo Xia, a play about the lives of common people before the Liberation. Don’t miss Love in Peach Blossom Land. which is considered a gem. All these plays, however, are sold out, so you may only be able to buy tickets off the scalpers. Good luck!


For a complete list of Theater Articles by Mina Choi click HERE