Global theatre collaboration celebrates Shakespeare and his Chinese counterpart

Global theatre collaboration celebrates Shakespeare and his Chinese counterpart

William Shakespeare and Tang Xianzu: Celebrating a 400 Year Legacy, is a unique global collaboration organised by the University of Leeds to create a new stage production to commemorate both anniversaries, featuring university students from both the UK and China.

Working around the common theme of dreams, students in Beijing and Leeds have been simultaneously rehearsing on opposite sides of the globe and will come together this summer for back-to-back performances of contemporary adaptions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Tang’s Nanke-ji (A Dream Under the Southern Bough).

It will premiere in Leeds in late July, before moving to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, then major cities in China including Fuzhou – Tang’s birthplace.

This event will be a chance to see an open rehearsal for the Yorkshire half of the performance, with UK students preparing DREAMING Under the Southern Bough, an adaption of Tang Xianzu’s play.

Professor of Chinese Theatre Studies Ruru Li, from East Asian Studies at the University, is one of those leading the Anglo-Chinese theatrical project.

She said: “Shakespeare and his Chinese contemporary Tang Xianzu are the greatest playwrights of their respective theatres. Their plays make us weep, laugh and imagine; they also touch our hearts and souls.

“Our project, with Chinese students working on an English play and British students on a Chinese play, allows the two traditions to talk to each other and the two groups to commune with spirit, voice, body, and breath. It is a genuine intercultural practice, both thought-provoking and a great pleasure for everyone involved.

“The project is making people think about the value and relevance of two classic plays to contemporary society and will also enhance cultural exchange between China and the UK.”

On his visit to the UK last October, Chinese President Xi Jinping endorsed the idea of a joint celebration of both playwrights to help deepen cultural understanding between the two countries.

“China and the UK can join in celebrating the legacies of these two literary giants, to promote interpersonal dialogue and deepen mutual understanding,” he told guests at a dinner hosted by the Mayor of London.

Steve Ansell is Artistic Director of the University’s stage@leeds theatre. He co-wrote the new production with School of Performance and Cultural Industries colleague Dr Adam Strickson and is also directing it.

He said: “This is a groundbreaking project that will allow two groups, from two cultures, the opportunity to creatively explore, understand and appreciate each other’s similarities and distinctions through the work of two great writers and the shared language of theatre.

“The two stories have the same overarching theme of ‘dreaming’, which can bring Shakespeare and Tang Xianzu – as well as Britain and China – together.”

Performances will be presented initially by the students at their own universities, before being performed ‘back-to-back’ at the 2016 Leeds Intercultural Festival from 27 July and at the Edinburgh Fringe from 5-13 August. From 15-25 September, the show will tour Beijing, Shanghai, and be performed in Tang’s hometown – Fuzhou in Jiangxi Province – during the Tang Xianzu Memorial Festival.