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Philosophy about seduction in Shanghai cabaret

By Nie Xin (Shanghai Daily)

09:03, January 25, 2013

"Chinese and Danish actors will stage "The Seducer's Diary," adapted from a famous philosophical work, set in a decadent 1930s Shanghai cabaret. (Shanghai Daily)

The Seducer's Diary," a famous philosophical work adapted to stage, is set in a decadent 1930s Shanghai cabaret and explores choices between hedonism and ethics, self-indulgence and responsibility.

The play in English, with Chinese subtitles, will be staged by the No Domain Theatre from Denmark, with music by The Tiger Lillies, an award-winning British punk band.

It will be staged from February 21 to March 3 at Shanghai Drama Arts Center. The cast includes four Chinese actors.

The performance in the form of cabaret features music, comedy, song, dance, recitation and drama. The colorful characters include bartender, pimp, prostitute and hatchet man.

"The Seducer's Diary" is the most influential part of Danish existentialist Soren Kirkegaard's "Either/Or" (1843), a sprawling work in many voices that explores deliberate choices between "aesthetics," in this case meaning personal and hedonistic, and ethics.

In the "golden" 1930s, Shanghai was not only the "Paris of the East," but a place of decadence and temptation, often the destination of sailors who were abducted or "Shanghaied." Along with Paris and Berlin, Shanghai was notorious as a "sin city." Its cabarets were infamous.

In the story and play, Johannes slowly plots the seduction of Cordelia and takes great pleasure in the planning, not even speaking to his target for a long time. He finally makes his move and they are soon engaged, but Johannes is dissatisfied and drives Cordelia to break off the engagement. He then lures her back and leaves her. He moves on to plotting his next seduction.

Kierkegaard himself wrote of being deeply and mutually in love, getting engaged and then breaking off the engagement.

Speaking of the Shanghai cabaret setting, No Domain Theatre director Anders Nyborg says, "Sometimes it just helps to put a scene into an environment that puts the whole thing in a higher necessity" and makes it vivid and urgent.

"Shanghai in the 1930s is the perfect setting for human beings having to make moral choices," says producer Chen Lei.

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