Fri, Nov 07, 2008 - Page 15 News List

The play that shook the world

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

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Ever since it premiered in 2003, Declan Donnellan’s Twelfth Night, an all-male Russian-language production of the much-loved Shakespeare comedy, has received rave reviews. It will be showing at the National Theater this weekend with, said the organizers, Chinese and Russian subtitles. English speakers hoping for a fix of the Bard had better know their text.

Twelfth Night is a joint production by Donnellan and the Chekhov International Theater Festival, and is one of many innovative Shakespearean productions that have won Cheek by Jowl, Donnellan’s production company, a three-year residency at London’s Barbican Theater.

Cheek by Jowl — the name comes from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream — has a long-standing devotion to the classics, but is famous for the freshness of its adaptations.

The production, which premiered in Moscow but has since toured Europe, the UK and US. According to a New York Times review, Donnellan’s production has discovered “an alchemical substance in Shakespeare that transcends the verbal.” Whatever this substance is, local directors, who continue to flail about when adapting Western works — most notably in James Liang’s (梁志民) recent bloodless reworking of Othello (針峰對決) — should be looking hard to discover what exactly that is.

For most, Shakespeare’s genius is thought of largely in linguistic terms, but Donnellan seems to have transcended this barrier, and in the same review: “The words, it seems, are but steppingstones to a universal pattern of images and insights about human behavior and the perplexing world that thwarts and shapes it. Shakespeare’s first language, it would seem, is not English, after all; it’s Theater.”

PERFORMANCE NOTES:

WHAT:Declan Donnellan’s Twelfth Night

WHEN: Tonight and tomorrow at 7:30pm; Sunday at 2:30pm

WHERE:National Theater, Taipei City

TICKETS:NT$500 to NT$2,500, available through NTCH ticketing


Similar experiments in non-linguistic drama are in the works: Ethan Chen’s The Drought Goddess (大神魃), which will premiere at the Experimental Theater from Dec. 19 to Dec. 21 as part of 2008 New Ideas Theater Festival (2008新點子劇展), includes a mix of Chinese dialects and singing styles that the director referred to as “rubbish talk.”

For beleaguered theater directors in Taiwan grappling with the problem of adapting of Chinese opera to contemporary theater, Donnellan’s success in England and the US with a foreign-language production of England’s greatest poet is likely to be encouraging.

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