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East and West clash in Huang Ying's Macbeth
THE first time Huang Ying, director of Beijing-based Full Show Lane Theatre staged Macbeth, he used structures and forms taken from traditional Chinese Opera.
Now, 13 years later, with the incorporation of the Japanese Suzuki method in his very contemporary interpretation of the classic Shakespearean tragedy, he is ready to let theatre worlds of the East and West "collide" or, "blend harmoniously", depending on which interpretation you'd like to give it.
This Macbeth is a milestone in his directorial and artistic career, Huang feels, given his understanding of what famed theatre director Tadashi Suzuki has taught him as recently as 2014. The Suzuki method emphasises the human body's expression of animal energy as the basis of theatre and stresses the importance of the actor's body over the text of a work.
"The audience in Singapore will get to see our brand new 'body', that is based on the Suzuki method as well as Chinese traditions," says the 38-year old director who is known for his subversive adaptations of the Bard. Huang has also staged Shakespeare's plays such as Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night's Dream.
What one should expect in this play is not Shakespeare, but Huang Ying as he has taken the storyline and distill it to the point where it becomes relevant to modern society in China. Shakespeare's Macbeth, he says, is an "anti-hero story" of the self-destruction of an over-ambitious man.
In his version, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth don "Autumn pants" (the undergarments that ordinary Chinese people are used to wearing), and stay toastily wrapped under a large flower-printed quilt in bed while plotting to usurp and murder. Assassins are dressed in workers' clothes, while the king reads out edicts in a tone that mimics that of Chinese leaders.
"All these have made this version of Macbeth different from the serious Shakespearean classic; it is a story of present-day China," says Huang.
In this latest interpretation, Huang's observation is that insomnia is a relevant issue, given that city-dwellers also suffer from different forms of sleep disorders. "This issue forms a cornerstone for the dialogue between the modern audience and the play. The other point that struck me about Macbeth was that we always define the image of Macbeth or any tragic heroes according to the Western precept. So I tried to restore him to an Asian society, especially one that is Chinese."
Every character in Macbeth has its prototype in the people around us, which he has taken and placed in the original script before "beefing" them up. "If you sit back and think about it, you will discover that everyone in this 400-year-old work behave in very familiar ways, because they may be found everywhere in your daily lives - in your office, or amongst friends," says Huang.
Besides his very contemporary adaptation of Macbeth, Huang also incorporates the Suzuki method for the first time.
Invited by Tadashi Suzuki to Toga where his company is based, Huang and his team learnt and applied the Suzuki method there. "Between the actors and I, we had a consensus that we were going to stage this play this way: we should treat what we learnt in Toga as a foundation for the production of this play, and even incorporate the Suzuki method into our daily exercises - to look at our bodies afresh and rehearse with this new mindset," explains Huang. Although Suzuki was the artistic director of Macbeth, it is not based entirely on the Suzuki method, as it is fundamentally Huang's own style.
In his most basic understanding of the Suzuki method, he sees how Suzuki had successfully initiated a collision of the oriental and Western cultures. "This is why I think the most important aesthetic value of the Suzuki method, especially in the development of contemporary theatre, is how oriental culture took the lead this time and the world embraced it. This fact is very important and it is the way forward for us, the younger generation," adds Huang.
The issue is not about adhering strictly to the form, but more the spirit behind it. "We should build on our own cultural background, oriental philosophy and aesthetics, and our own characteristics, to continue to dialogue with the West on this journey to modernity. Having our voice is more important than anything else."
Huang is looking forward to the Singapore audience as he feels they are able to appreciate his production rather than feel that it's a desecration of the traditional Shakespearean Macbeth. But he knows he won't be able to change everyone's perception of classical theatre repertoire even if this is a milestone in his directorial and artistic career.
"No matter what it is, I believe the audience will gain more if you come to watch this production of Macbeth from China with an open mind," he concludes, adding that he's looking forward to hearing the audience's reactions to the play so that he can continue to improve this work and create better theatre productions in which the East and West continue to collide, or as the Chinese would say, "blend harmoniously".
Macbeth will be presented from Feb 16 - 18 in Mandarin with English surtitles at the Esplanade Theatre Studio. Tickets from S$35 available for Feb 17 at www.esplanade.com
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