In 2009, the Taiwan Bangzi Opera Company scored a huge international success with Bond (約/束), an adaptation of The Merchant of Venice, which was presented at the 4th British Shakespeare Association Conference at the Greenwood Theater of King’s College, Cambridge. The company, which specializes in Henan opera or Yu opera (豫劇), is back with another Shakespearean adaptation, this time of the minor Shakespearian comedy Measure for Measure, renamed Measure, Measure (量。度).
As with the former work, the production is headlined by Perng Ching-hsi (彭鏡禧), one of Taiwan’s foremost Shakespeare scholars and former dean of National Taiwan University’s College of Liberal Arts.
At a press conference announcing the new production, artistic director Wei Kuo-tai (韋國泰) said that the company had selected this lesser known work because of the story, which he believes to be very suitable for adaptation to Bangzi opera. “This is a Shakespeare play that is very rarely performed in Taiwan, but we now have a very strong cast and production team with great experience, so that we can create a great theatrical experience.”
According to Perng, he selected Measure for Measure because it was a story that spoke to him. “As with Merchant of Venice, Measure is a play that is very difficult to produce well. It is very complex, and difficult to get come to grips with. There are many possible interpretations.”
This complexity is part of the appeal of the play for Perng, who has used the story to focus on ideas about the uses of discretion, whether based on reason or emotion, within a judicial system. He said that this was something which is fundamental to the operation of administrative systems around the world, and which gives this play not just a contemporary relevance, but also speaks to particular issues within Taiwan’s own judiciary.
What: Measure, Measure (量。度)
When: Tomorrow and Saturday at 7:30pm; Sunday at 2:30pm
Where: National Theater, Taipei City
Admission: Tickets are NT$400 to NT$2,000; available through NTCH ticketing and online at www.artsticket.com.tw
Director Lu Po-sheng (呂柏伸) wrote his master’s thesis on the methodology used by Wu Hsing-kuo (吳興國) of the Contemporary Legend Theater (當代傳奇劇場), a pioneer in the work of incorporating Western works, especially Shakespeare, into the repertoire of Chinese opera. He has since proved his talent following the success of Bond. “Shakespeare has been adapted into many styles of Chinese opera, but often these adaptations never really get beyond the bare bones of the plot. Having a well written script for the opera is very important, for one of the great achievements of Shakespeare is the insight he gives into the hearts and minds of his characters. Professor Perng has chosen plays with considerable intellectual content, and we hope that audiences can enjoy not just a story with many twists and turns, but also come to grips with the moral issues that this play presents. I have set the play up almost as a debate between different [moral] positions.”
The work of adaptation is not restricted to the process of bringing Shakespeare to the east. The Taiwan Bangzi Opera Company is also eager to push the limits of Henan style opera. Diva Wang Hai-ling (王海玲) said that her aim was to incorporate what is best in Henan opera into the presentation of a great story, and added that she had made many challenging adjustments to her performance style to provide the flexibility and the flamboyance to these new productions that got Bond noticed by audiences who might never have heard of Henan opera before.