Yao Yi-wei (姚一葦) is one of the recognized greats of the modern Chinese theater, a writer of many successful and influential works for the stage. His play, Sun Fei-hu, The Snatcher of Wedding (孫飛虎搶親), has been much praised as a work of literature. But since it was published in 1965, Sun Fei-hu has never been staged, largely because of the enormous technical complexities of producing it.
Chinese director Wu Xiaojiang (吳曉江) says that innovations in theatrical methodology and technology have now made the project feasible, almost half a century after it was written.
This production, which will see the play’s world premiere today, is being billed as the first ever “full collaboration” between theatrical talent in China and Taiwan.
The team mounting the play includes the playwright’s daughter Yao Hai-hsing (姚海星), who is an associate professor at the National Taipei University of the Arts’ (台北藝術大學戲劇學院) School of Theatre.
Sun Fei-hu, an early effort to transcend the boundaries that separate Chinese and Western drama, was regarded as un-stageable when it was first released, and had been described by the doyen of contemporary Taiwanese playwrights Chi Wei-jan (紀蔚然) as “Yao’s highest artistic achievement.”
The play is built on a foundation derived from the Chinese classic Romance of The Western Chamber (西廂記), but its ideas and characters are unashamedly modern.
Yao wanted to create a link between the traditional and contemporary, and to this end even created a unique style of recitative delivery for certain sections of dialogue, which director Wu said had posed a very considerable challenge as it was not clear how the playwright had envisaged this to be delivered.
What: Sun Fei-hu, The Snatcher of Wedding (孫飛虎搶親)
When: Today and tomorrow at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2:30pm
Where: National Theater, Taipei City
Admission: Tickets are NT$500 to NT$2,000, available through NTCH ticketing or online at www.artsticket.com.tw
“When my father wrote this play, Taiwan’s theater scene hadn’t the talent to stage such a difficult play,” Yao said.
Wu, the director, speaking for the Chinese portion of the production team, affirmed that this was a play that China’s communist authorities would never have permitted to be performed back in the mid-1960s.
In one sense, the revival of this work is something of a celebration of the achievements of Chinese culture over the past few decades.
Leading the cast is the highly acclaimed Chinese actor Wu Yue (吳樾), a former martial arts champion who has expanded into singing, songwriting and acting. He is probably best known in the West for his participation in the Hong Kong biopic Bruce Lee, My Brother (李小龍).
The combination of star power and academic prowess means this production of Sun Fei-hu, the Snatcher of Wedding has impressive credentials, but whether a work of early modernist theater will have the same impact today as it might have had half a century ago remains to be seen.