Fri, Jul 09, 2010 - Page 14 News List

Double, double toil and trouble

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he Deer and the Cauldron was written and serialized between 1969 and 1972 by the novelist and newspaper proprietor Louis Cha (金庸) as the last and final work of his prodigious output of wuxia xiaoshuo (武俠小說), or chivalric novels. It has been adapted numerous times for television and cinema, and has now been brought to the stage by the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center (上海話劇藝術中心). The production, directed by He Nian (何念), one of China’s most successful and prolific young directors, opened in 2008 and has toured widely to great acclaim in China. It opened yesterday in Taipei for a four-day run at the National Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall (台北國父紀念館) before moving to Taichung for a further two shows next week.

The Deer and the Cauldron tells the story of Wei Xiaobao (韋小寶), a street urchin who finds his way into the imperial palace while impersonating a eunuch and befriends the young emperor Kang Xi (康熙). The emperor, who came to the throne at the age of 7 and was to become one of the longest-reigning of the Manchu Qing Dynasty emperors, faces pressures both inside and outside the court and must establish the political power of his government in the face of an active insurgency that wants to re-establish the Han Chinese Ming Dynasty. Having befriended Wei in a boyish scuffle, the child emperor discovers in this reprobate an ideal agent who over the many years the book covers helps the emperor in various endeavors, usually by unconventional means.

Wei is a very unconventional hero for a chivalric novel. He is above all utterly dishonest, a compulsive teller of tales, and his moral compass, if he ever had one, is often sent awry by the magnetic force of his physical appetites. The only constant in Wei’s world is a sense of loyalty to those he has befriended, and unfortunately this includes both a Manchu emperor, and later, members of the anti-Manchu resistance. Moreover, Wei’s martial arts skills are mainly the product of bravado, and the thing that saves him, often only to get him into further trouble down the road, is his gift of the gab. In fact, Cha comprehensively overturns most of the rules of the chivalric novel in The Deer and the Cauldron, but this seems only right as he was also responsible for establishing many of them.

PERFORMANCE NOTES

What: The Deer and the Cauldron (鹿鼎記) by the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center (上海話劇藝術中心)

When: Today and tomorrow at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2:30pm in Taipei, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30pm in Taichung

Where: Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall (台北國父紀念館), 505, Renai Rd Sec 4, Taipei City (台北市仁愛路四段505號2樓) and Chunghsing Concert Hall, Taichung (台中中興堂), 291-3 Cingwu Rd, Taichung City

(台中市精武路291之3號)

Admission: NT$500 to NT$2,500, available through ERA ticketing or online at www.ticket.com.tw


The Deer and the Cauldron is a picaresque novel full of incidents with a huge cast of characters. Much has had to be cut for the stage production, which focuses primarily on the relationship between Wei, the Manchu emperor and Chen Jinnan (陳近南), a leading figure in the anti-Manchu resistance who becomes Wei’s shifu (師傅), or master. Wang Yung (王勇), who plays the role of the emperor Kang Xi, said that when they first started rehearsing, the production ran for almost four hours, and painful cuts had to be made, with some characters being reduced from major roles to little more than extras. The show now runs for about two-and-a-half hours.

The fast-paced action of The Deer and the Cauldron is squarely aimed at keeping the audience in stitches, something reviews in the Chinese media suggest it managed to do entirely successfully. Gags have been re-jigged for each tour destination, making use of peculiarities of local dialects and current social and political issues. The lead actor says he had few qualms about performing in Taiwan. “We have had very successful shows all around southern China,” he said. “In fact, as far as cultural differences are concerned, we’re probably closer to Taiwan than to northern China.”

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