Saturday, January 31, 2009


Jiangsu's classical company


The most ancient of China's theatre traditions, Kunqu is preserved in performance by many great companies. This group of six actors and five musicians is touring the county as part of the Essex-Jiangsu Festival, giving shows in schools and theatres.

At the Cramphorn, we saw five excerpts from their repertoire. Kunqu is a heady blend of speech, dance, mime and song. Nothing about it is realistic, although some of the comic characters would be recognisable in any culture.

In the first, we saw an encounter between the Rat – a petty thief, played with a wonderfully expressive face by Ji Shoaqing – and a judge disguised as a fortune-teller. Ji also played the wine seller at the Monastery Gate, opposite a martial arts monk energetically embodied by Zhao Yutao in a stylised farce which included some incredible physical feats.

Voices fluting a haunting glissando, faces painted like porcelain, flowing sleeves echoing their fluent gestures, two lovers met and parted in a charming extract from The Peony Pavilion. And there was more virtuoso acting in the final piece, from the Peach Blossom fan, in which General Shi [Ke Jun], powerless to prevent the fall of the Ming Dynasty, plunges in despair into the Yangste.

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