Fri, Aug 10, 2001 - Page 7 News List

Taipei provesgood spot for British humor

The high camp of Peter Shaffer's `Black Comedy' makes a successful transfer from England to Taiwan

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

Black Comedy is played by, clockwise from top left, Jeff Locker, Cheng Dan-wei, Lee Tian-zhu, Qian De-men and Xie Qiong-xuan.

PHOTO COURTESY OF GODOT THEATER COMPANY

In the wake of its immensely successful and long-running show Communicating Doors (走錯門中門), the Godot Theater Company has brought another ambitious adaptation from the British stage to Taiwan, this time in the form of Peter Shaffer's Black Comedy, written in 1965.

A further cross-cultural touch is provided by Jeffery Locker, who has established himself as a local radio and television personality and who is making his first venture onto the stage in Taiwan.

The presentation of Black Comedy is part of a double feature of Shaffer's work, with Amadeus (1984), which is scheduled to open at the Dr Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall on Sept. 6.

Schaffer's work was last performed in Taiwan with the powerful adaptation of his 1974 play Equus by the Performance Workshop (表演工作坊) in 1994.

Black Comedy, a humorous romp though the petty deceits of a young sculptor caught in a power outage when trying to impress a rich art collector and his fiance's father, is not a work in the same league as Equus, but is full of energy and easy laughs.

According to director James Liang (梁志民), the adaptation of Black Comedy presented considerable challenges, as the play is very much a product of its time and place, making extensive use of British class and sexual stereotypes, as well as the somewhat outdated theatrical language of camp.

"We decided to relocate all the action to Taipei, and the characters have also been changed in many respects," said Liang.

Thus Colonel Melkett, a crusty old army man who is the hero's prospective father-in-law, is transformed into General Sun, with dialogue and attitudes making the transition with little difficulty. A gay art collector who is the hero's neighbor and whose house is pillaged to provide suitable furnishings for the sculptor's stark flat, takes more of a beating in the translation process, losing some of the subtlety of British verbal high camp for a rather broader humor. Veteran actor Lee Tien-zhu (李天柱) gives this role a element of naturalism that is missing from the otherwise cartoonishly simplified characters that are the staple of this style of bedroom farce.

Working from a direct translation of the English script, some of the verbal humor is lost, according to Jeffry Locker, who plays the leading role. But there was plenty of room for improvisation, and the mixed accents of the English original were replicated in Chinese with the distinctly mainlander accents of the general, and the use of Cantonese-tinged Mandarin for roles originally intended for German-accented English. Locker's less-than-perfect Chinese provides additional scope for a number of jokes as well.

Foreign residents in Taiwan have not been active in local Chinese-language theater, and this is the first occasion on which a foreigner has played with a local troupe at the National Theater. To Locker's credit, he manages to hold his own, and although reference is made to him as a foreigner, the show rises above the "lets laugh at the wai guo ren" stuff that happens on Super Sunday and other such TV variety programs.

If there is a criticism to make, the choreography of the piece, which is made even more important than in the original by the alterations, is not tight enough. Luckily, there is enough happening on stage to keep the audience occupied. With much of the action taking place in pitch darkness, there is plenty of humorous stage business, and Locker's lanky build is used effectively to exaggerate the effects.

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