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Chinese drama seeks overseas fans

By Nie Xin (Shanghai Daily)

08:26, March 15, 2013

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An experimental Chinese-UK theater coproduction features three alienated characters in modern, money-mad and consumer-driven Shanghai. They include a Chinese businesswoman who speaks little English, an English businessman who speaks no Chinese, and a bilingual returning overseas Chinese businessman from Wall Street.

The play "Consumed" (by consumerism) is underway in London, produced by the Shanghai Drama Arts Center in association with Border Crossings from the UK. It is performed in English and Mandarin with subtitles.

Set during the 2008 financial crisis, characters use the latest technology in phones and the Internet to communicate, but communication constantly fails: across language, across culture, across gender, across time. The Englishman and Chinese woman begin to fall in love, but the returning overseas Chinese, who used to be the woman's boyfriend 20 years ago, still has feelings for her. He happens upon her Skype message to the Englishman and he responds affectionately in his stead. The story gets complicated.

It's been running for several weeks and has been well-received by an audience of both overseas living in London, and Westerners.

The play, involving lots of high-tech devices and effects, is described as experimental theater and inter-cultural theater, aimed at the Chinese community and younger audiences. Related activities include post-show discussions.

This is one example of Chinese drama seeking a wider international audience, beyond those who would attend showcase, cultural-exchange presentations of traditional Chinese operas.

Chinese element

"Some Chinese local dramas have been recognized by international audiences," says Zhang Yu, director of the Shanghai Modern Theater, a Shanghai-based theater troupe. "In the international theater market, some Chinese versions of classic Western dramas are also popular."

Last year, the Chinese version of Agatha Christie's "The Mouse Trap" was performed in Chinese by the Modern Theater at St Martin Theater in London to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the well-loved play. It was a short run.

Two years ago, the Shanghai Theater Academy presented "Romance of the West Camber" at the Avignon Theater Festival. The classic, performed in Chinese with subtitles, was directed by Frenchman Gérard Gelas. It was staged for one month at the Theatre du Chene Noir as the OFF part of the festival that celebrates contemporary life theater.

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