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The stage is a world

By Han Bingbin (China Daily)

09:20, July 27, 2012

Hebei Provincial Theater's production of The Odd Couple features a cast of foreign actors.

A Chinese-language production of the classic New York play The Odd Couple at the National Center for the Performing Arts was a brave experiment. Han Bingbin reports in Beijing.

In what was a world's first, a full cast of Western actors from six countries performed an all-Mandarin version of Neil Simon's Broadway comedy classic The Odd Couple at the National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA) on Wednesday and Thursday.

With its vivid portrait of the hilarious happenings between two mismatched flatmates, both suffering from frustrating marriages, the Tony Award-winning play has enjoyed success since its debut in 1965, with more than 1,200 performances staged on Broadway so far.

While it's generally believed that American sarcasm doesn't really work for Chinese audiences, this didn't seem to be a problem. Meanwhile, the actors spoke with such a range of accents that it was like a dubbed foreign movie.

The natural style of acting made the New York story more credible, director Gu Wei says - though he admits the choice of foreign actors was a business strategy to begin with.

Rather than choosing an obviously popular play, Li Tihua, from the Hebei Provincial Theater decided on The Odd Couple as part of the theater's transformation from being a government-sponsored art troupe to a market-oriented theater company.

The two nights of performances were on the same NCPA stage where Hebei Provincial Theater created a box office record in the capital with a revolution-themed drama in 2011.

Gu says the process was "very daring" because the stage was booked even before rehearsals were scheduled. After two painstaking months searching for foreigners who can both act and speak fluent Mandarin, there was only time for one month's rehearsal - shorter than for a typical Chinese play.

And though the foreign actors could speak good Chinese, they needed help reading the script. Also, though many of them had experience working on TV series and movies, they had limited stage experience.

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