A quick post from me today, a longer one coming tomorrow. You need to read my previous post, Worlds Apart, to make sense of this one. It is fascinating to read Lyn Gardner’s take on The Tragedy of Coriolanus by Beijing People’s Art theatre given what Lin Zhaohua has to say about his direction and why he does Shakespeare in China. A real East versus West cultural conundrum, I think. The review was published in The Guardian this week.
Beijing People’s Art Theatre go for bombast, but slack pacing and an underused chorus leave it more mediocre than menacing
It sure is big, and – with no less than two Chinese rock bands on stage – it’s full of sound and fury, but while Beijing People’s Art Theatre pump up the volume on Shakespeare’s tragedy of power and violence, the result is oddly muted. With its themes of arrogance, leadership, a discontented mob and democracy, this should be a fascinating choice of play for a company hailing from a country where there is no political opposition, human rights are regularly abused and protest is frequently stamped out.
But this production remains mysteriously opaque, offering empty spectacle in the place of nuanced political comment and metaphor. Unlike the Shakespeare that came out of Romania and Poland during their communist eras, it seems determined to offer no comment upon the society that spawned it. Maybe it says something about the contempt in which the mass of the people are held by the country’s political leadership that the mob here have a desultory feel, wandering around looking vaguely hippyish, waving their arms unconvincingly and muttering the Chinese equivalent of “rhubarb, rhubarb”. They are so under-energised that they are never a real threat to anyone, except perhaps to their own health and safety in getting on and off the stage without tripping over each other.
The slackness of the crowd scenes is reflected in a production which was first performed in 2007 – and which often looks in need of a jolly good dust-down. Even the aesthetic is inconsistent, at times pared down and stripped back, and at others including cumbersome sofas and carts. Like a great deal in this production, the ladders at the back of the stage are there for effect only, and serve no purpose.
It’s not all mediocre flashiness. Pu Cunxin’s arrogant Coriolanus enters with a rock-star assurance and has a rumbling power, like a capped volcano. The scenes between him and his mother (Li Zhen) have genuine power and tension, particularly in their final encounter, which seals Coriolanus’s fate. But overall an evening which is epic, but not in a good way.