A powerful ruler is overthrown, forced to flee his home and lands on a nearby island where he usurps the local leaders. Shakespeare's The Tempest and Taiwan's history share a similar story, and for the first time, The Tempest will be presented through Taiwanese Aboriginal music and Peking opera.
In Shakespeare's play, Caliban is a minor character torn between his desire to be independent and his slave-status under Prospero, the colonizer and main character. But in Wu's production, Caliban is the focal point and drive of the show. By using Aboriginal songs, the show highlights a post-colonial message: the suppressed will reinvent themselves in reaction to the colonizer.
The show also integrates Peking Opera, a Wu trademark. Wu founded the Contemporary Legend Theater and has directed and acted in past interpretations of Shakespeare, including Hamlet and his one-man show, King Lear.
Though Wu has directed before, he invited Hong Kong's Tsui Hark (
dramatic momentum of Tsui's action films. Tsui, in fact, helped shape the script and score with Wu and choreographer Lin Sho-wei (
In the two-act, 144 minute musical, Tsui and Oscar-winning designer Tip Yip (
Tsui shaped Chinese film in the 1980s and 1990s but The Tempest is the first project he has directed on stage. It is also the first time he has directed a Shakespeare work.
"In movies, with camera and editing, we could choose which parts are the highlights for the audiences to focus on. However, theater is an open space where the audience chooses where they will pay attention," Tsui said.
He is famous for establishing the new wave of kung fu films, with the A Chinese Ghost Story trilogy, the Once Upon a Time in China series with Jet Li, and the Legend of the Swordsmen trilogy.
While Tsui's ideas integrate Hong Kong film, designer Yip uses Chinese ink painting to integrate Eastern tradition into the Western play.
Like his designs in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Yip's designs for The Tempest weave playfulness, magic and power -- themes of both Shakespeare and Wu scripts. His wire rigging will allow actors to fly across the stage and the island setting will be made clear thanks to Tsui's rendition of rolling waves.
The Tempest should also be a visual treat in terms of the clothing, as Yip has developed 36 costumes for the 40 cast members. Caliban's attire is the most striking, giving him a look that is a cross between that of a human and a beast. The female character, Miranda, played by Liu Jia-hou (劉珈后), is draped in an outfit with long, flowing sleeves. Such sleeves are common in traditional Peking opera and symbolize great love.
It is Miranda's romance with Ferdinand that brings traditional theater to the forefront. Tsui places great emphasis on the love story as it balances the often politically tense story.
What: The Tempest, by the Contemporary Legend Theatre
Where: The National Theater, 21-1 Zhongshan S Rd, Taipei
When: Dec. 30, 7:30pm; Dec. 31, 9pm; Jan. 1, 2:30pm and 7:30pm; Jan. 2, 7:30pm.