The Play’s the thing in China

Most actors will agree that going to movies is a step down in their career. But even the most established, well-known actors will take on stage roles over movies because stage is an artform, a chance to really shine as a well-rounded actor, and receive some critical cred along the way.

Pu Cunxi and Gao Yuanyuan in Hamlet.

It can also be a way for younger up-and-coming stars to gain some any kind of credibility.

Zhang Xiaochen and Wei Chen in the stage version of idol drama Struggle or "Fen Dou"

About Hamlet:

A popular avant-garde version of Shakespeare’s classic “Hamlet” premiered again after its premiere 18 years ago.

In 1990, the play, directed by Lin Zhaohua, a leading artist of Chinese avant-garde theater, gained huge popularity and roused great controversy in China for its unique perspective and performance.

In the play, the role of Hamlet was divided among different actors, switching from time to time. So did other characters. For instance, Pu Cunxi, the hero, was Hamlet sometimes and the King Claudius for a while.

“I want to demonstrate the concept of ‘everybody is Hamlet’,” said the 72-year-old director during a rehearsal in Beijing Saturday, “All characters shared elements of good and evil, honesty and falsehood. I mean to blur morality difference in apparently opposed characters.”

The stage design was quite contemporary. The King and Queen were seated on a barber’s chair. A grave maker made a phone call to his colleagues. Ceiling fans are “swords” used by Hamlet.

Actors were not wearing costumes but their own clothes.

“I want to draw Hamlet closer to us as our brother and one of us, instead of making him an alien noble,” Lin said. “For me, he is not a prince revenging for justice, nor a humanism hero, but part of us. Facing your truly ego is the most positive, bravest and heroic posture that modern people can have.”

The play was not apparently different from the edition 18 years ago except for the actors, Lin said.

Hamlet is played mostly by Pu Cunxin, a renowned actor who played leading roles in several famous Chinese dramas such as “Thunderstorm,” “Teahouse” and “The Three Sisters, Waiting for Godot”. He was the only one left of all actors in the play’s premiere.

King Claudius and Queen Gertrude are played respectively by Zhou Mingshan and Chen Jin, both veterans, while Ophelia go to Gao Yuanyuan, a young starlet who played in several films.

Lin was one of the pioneers of Experimental Theatre Movement that brought Chinese theater into its modernistic stage by introducing non-illusionistic style and techniques in the 1980s and 1990s.

The play will be staged in Beijing from Oct. 21 to 25, in Shanghai from Oct. 27 to 28 and in Shenzhen from Nov. 6 to 8.


More about Struggle/Fendou (notes: whoever wrote this really has no idea how to properly use drama and play. Just think the other word when you see it here. I was very confused when I was first reading this. I thought they were making a new tv drama, or even a movie of Fen Dou and was excited because I love Zhang Xiaochen and Wei Chen and they’re both a lot better looking than the actors for the idol series, which is kind of weird if you think about it. They got the good looking, inexperienced guys to do the play and asked the not so good-looking guys to act in the idol drama.)

TV idol play Fen Dou or ‘Struggle’ swept the Chinese mainland in 2007 and has been a hit ever since. Now the TV series has been adapted as a drama by China’s top production team and is set to surpass its success on screen.

The Director and the lead actors are busy rehearsing drama “Struggle” which is expected to premiere November 4 at Poly Theatre in Beijing. Different from the TV version’s 32 episodes, the drama displays its funniest and most touching moments in about two hours. Director Tian Youliang explains.

Zhang Xiaochen

Wei Chen of Superboys (Kuai Le Nan Sheng)

Wei Chen of Superboys (Kuai Le Nan Sheng)

“TV and drama are different art forms. The TV series simply follows the original novel and seldom makes changes. The drama will provide much more room for that. Actors can act in an exaggerated way and get closer to the theme of the story. At the same time, we keep the original flavor and most compelling parts of the story.”

The novel depicts the life of six young people born in 1980s including their struggle for a successful career, their vision of love and family and especially their passion and perplexity in life. With extremely well written comedic lines, the novel and the TV series have captivated their audience.

Zhao Liang, manager of Poly Performing Arts Co. Ltd says the drama will be even more interesting.

“Some people criticized the TV series, saying the actors and actresses are trying hard to act younger because they were born in the 1970s. However, all the leading roles in the drama are post-80s. That makes the drama closer to real life and the original novel. Meanwhile, we extracted over 400 classic lines from the novel. The audience should get a kick out of that.”

Young singers Wei Chen, Zhang Xiaochen and Yu Shasha are among the actors in the drama. In order to build chemistry, they played badminton with each other. Since the TV series “Struggle” was a big success, Zhang Xiaochen says he will use it as a reference.

“When I’m reading the script, I will think of the TV series. I’ll try my best to be different. I don’t want to repeat what’s in the TV show.”

Meanwhile, fans of the TV series have expressed their concern over the adaptation. Yin is one of them.

“I think the drama can present the story in a more dramatic and artistic way, making it more lively. Because the TV series is such a hit with its audience, we will naturally compare the play and the TV show. That may not be good for the stage production.”

To cast away people’s doubts, the director says the team will add more elements to the stage production, especially to the designing of the set. As for the storyline, Lu Tao, one of the six heroes, will appear on the stage as a senior. The elderly Lu Tao is not included in the novel or the TV version. The director explains.

“Everybody has their prime time. Elderly people were also passionate when they were young. The good and bad memories of their youth can become treasures of their life. The role is designed to give a reflection to life and youth.”

The drama will tour in other cities after its debut in Beijing. Audience can expect to smile, and have tears in their eyes after watching the show.


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