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China Changing Festival: The Injustice to Tou O

2018-10-05 22:26:46 China Minutes

As part of the Southbank Centre's China Changing Festival this weekend Ding Yiteng's adaptation of 'The Injustice to Tou'O', a reimagining of a 13th-century supernatural tale of love and intrigue, false accusations and the making and undoing of curses will be presented to local audiences.

Based on Chinese dramatist Guan Hanqing’s classic text, this contemporary adaptation makes use of physical performance, text, film and live music and is set in Shang Yan, a dystopian city full of restless souls. The story follows Tou O, who is framed for a murder she didn’t commit. The judge sent to the city is Tou Tienchang, her father, whom Tou O has not seen for 13 years. She hopes he will save her, but he pronounces her guilty. In desperation, Tou O curses the city. Will Tou O withdraw her terrible oaths and choose to live, or let Shang Yan face environmental chaos?

Performed by a company of ten, The Injustice to Tou O’s lead performer and director is Beijing-based Ding Yiteng, who has won the Prominent Director of China Award (2018) and been nominated twice for the Most Promising Young Chinese Theatre Artists of the Year (2015 and 2016). Ding's style is visually impressive, energetic and thought-provoking.

China Minutes conducted an interview with Ding in the run-up to his big performance:

1, What made you decide to create a performance around the story of 'The injustice to Tou'O?

If fact there are many reasons, for instance my apprenticeship in Odin Theatre (Denmark) made me put more attention on the traditional Chinese stories and Operas. The Injustice to Tou'O shares the same spirit with the Ancient Greek plays like Medea and Antigone which inspired me a lot. However the most significant reason is my father's death. Kneeling on the snowfield and facing the firmament, I lost my father on a windy snowy day, which reminded me of the eternal topics of humanity such as living and death, gathering and abandon, cruelty and injustice.

2, What makes this adaptation different to previous adaptations?

I think it is the first adaptation of 'The injustice to Tou'O' appearing on the contemporary theatre stage in the world. I extracted the DNA from the old Chinese story and forms, then transferred into contemporary cells, new phenotype is expressed.

3, Why did you decide to use text, film and live music?

Transboundary forms such as film and live music do apply to this play, I am trying to explore the diversity of the space in theatre and expand the edge of the essential characteristic of the theatre-Fiction.

4, How have you adapted this story for a contemporary audience?

Most of the traditional opera stories from Chinese Yuan dynasty were with happy endings in order to comfort people from the miserable reality. At the end of the old 'Injustice to Tou'O': Tou'O's father came back to uphold justice for his daughter. But in my story Tou'O 's Father Tou T'ien-Chang refused to admit his daughter and execute her in the ending which pulled out the last straw of Tou'O. She appeared to be the one who was extremely desperate and solitary-an existentialist.

The words of Meursault in the novel The Stranger from Camus were spoken out through Tou'O's mouth at the end of the performance:

A life in which I can remember thismiserablelife on earth.That’s all I want ofit.Gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the firsttime, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe. To feel it so likemyself, indeed, so brotherly, made me realize that I’d been happy, and that I was happy still. Forall to be accomplished, for me to feel less lonely, all thatremained to hope was that on the day ofmy execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me withhowls of execration.

5, What challenges did you face when producing the adaptation?

The biggest challenge was to transmit the brand new perception of making this specific performance, which means to adapt and transform the old Chinese theatre texts and physical techniques into what I call 'New codification'.

6, Were there any memorable moments when producing the adaptation?

When I developed this production in Denmark, once I performed, the scene was Tou'O facing her father after 13 years, rummily, I saw my own father's face through one female spectator's eye, then suddenly I knew why I made this performance and I found out the secret of the theatre: Give the life to the death.

7, What do you hope to achieve through presenting this adaptation to a Western audience?

Oriental comes from Mercury, occidental comes from Mars. I regard this opportunity as a valuable exchange to communicate and bring our contemporary Chinese energy to the Western context, instead of being stuck and soliloquizing in our own context.

The Injustice to Tou O is performed at Southbank Centre on 7 October as part of China Changing Festival: https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/131067-injustice-tou-o-2018

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