Richard III March ’17

theatre misc

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain

About a prophecy, which says that ‘G’
Of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be.
With these words Gloucester introduces himself to his audience, a crippled man, unloved, unsightly and unattractive, yet charming, oh so charming when needs be, and cruel and calculating in order to get what he wants, what he sees as his birthright.

Once again Richard was cast with a woman, the incredibly awesome Kate Mulvany, and once again the audience forgets that a woman is playing a man’s part because as it often is with Shakespeare’s characters, it is the archetype of someone lusting after power, after approval, after recognition that becomes a character – and because Mulvany is just so brilliant in the part. While baring her soul to her opponents, Mulvany literally bares all, standing naked, with just a loincloth like panty, back to the audience, proudly in front of a phalanx of Lords and Ladies, and shocks them into silence. A mesmerising scene.

10 people on stage, waiting in the richly decked out salon, where the play takes place, the men taking on multiple parts, interchangeable just as their hunger for power is. The women play one part each, though, their motivations are allowed to change. Whenever a battle scene is on, we see – in slow motion – a wild almost orgy like festivity play out in this salon. First I didn’t like that, I was too caught up in the “traditional” way of portraying the battles, but in retrospect I think the idea to not move from that salon is genius. The hatred, the scheming and the fights can be identical, no matter what kind of battlefield you choose.

When Richard finally dies because everybody turns against him and his cruel reign (and isn’t it fascinating that hundreds of years after this was written the world waits for exactly this kind of end to yet another nepotistic dictator? nothing changes, it seems), Shakespeare gives him the most pathetic words: A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse. And then Richard is killed.

Not so in this version (and I freely admit I had to look it up and found it in the Sydney Morning Herald – thank you for that!): because Kate Mulvany – who also directed (is there anything this woman can’t do???? she is marvellous!) – gives Richard a final chance to explain himself, to make him understood, even pitied even though pity is probably the last thing he wants. With a monologue plucked from the last act of Henry VI, part III she shows us his warped soul, his defiance, his non-acceptance of his defeat and his final pride:

“I have no brother, I am like no brother;

And this word ‘love,’ which graybeards call divine,

Be resident in men like one another

And not in me: I am myself alone.”

***

standing ovations were had. and rightfully so. Ms Mulvany is incredible, as is her direction. I hope she’s on stage again the next time I’m in Sydney. I will make time for whatever play she’s in.

Chimerica March ’17

theatre misc

 

Chimerica – a fusion of the words China and America coined by academic historian Niall Ferguson and economist Moritz Schularick to signal the intertwined economies of those two countries (watch the pronounciation!) – is not just a play about that iconic photography of a man standing in front of Chinese tanks at Tien an men in Beijing. (click on this link for the original coverage by CNN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YeFzeNAHEhU ). In fact, this picture is just a starting point for how much the US and China are diverted by culture, by upbringing and by social norms.

It all starts 20 years ago, when young Joe (Mark Leonard Winter, whose character is given his name to reflect the “average Joe” moniker often given to Americans in general), a photographer on his first boring assignment – an economy conference – in Beijing, is caught in the riots of Tien an men and by pure luck looks out the window of his hotel room just in time to see a single man, holding a plastic bag in each of his hands, standing defiantly in front of the rolling tanks, forcing them to avert him. He takes a photo and quick witted hides the film in the toilet.

At home in the US he is immediately famous. In America the lonely man facing the force of China’s army is a symbol of a new dawn in a dark country, the force of the people against an oppressive regime, something that fits the narrative of the US perfectly.

20 years later, now, Joe is still in touch with his then interpreter Zhang Lin (played by Jason Chong), having been back in China often, yet still not speaking the language… Zhang Lin teaches English in Beijing, trying to instill a feeling of freedom in his students, but mostly being a bit weird, shouting from rooftops (literally). He lives next door to a woman with a severe lung infection caused by working in bad conditions. When she dies, he tries to make the government change said conditions. He’d be in need of some backing, but Joe doesn’t get that he’s supposed to help Zhang Lin. Joe hasn’t had any new successes – he still lives off that one photo he had taken in that hotel room decades ago. When a cryptic message shows up in a newspaper, Joe hopes to finally find that elusive stranger.

Back in Beijing we see in flashbacks, how that photo came to pass: Boy meets Girl at one of the student protests there. Boy and Girl fall in love. Girl gets pregnant, they are happy. But then they get caught in the riots, the girl is hurt badly, dies at the hospital. a tired nurse hands the boy two plastic bags with the girl’s clothes, her shoes, the necklace he gave her. With a bag in each hand he walks away, numb, finds himself standing in front of tanks without even realising it.

While in the US, Joe follows lead after lead until he finds the owner of a flower stand, who seems to be connected to the “brave man in the photo”. It turns out the brave man was his son, riding the tank, not standing in front of it,  avoiding collision with a lunatic. And while China spun a story about how humane its army was, the young man driving the tank was later shot because he didn’t roll over the protester.

The audience, of course, knows – thanks to the flashbacks – that Zhang Lin was the brave young man in the photo, something Joe would’ve caught on as well, had he even tried to learn more about his interpreter who had been a friend to him even when they sent him to prison for “colluding” with Joe.

So we look at two lives at dead ends – one in democratic America, where you have to follow orders given to you because of monetary motifs in a more concealed way perhaps, just like in “non-democratic” China. Who are we to say that Democracy as we know it – being executed by rich white men – is so much better or so much more just than any other form of rulership?

+++

The play doesn’t give us answers, but asks great questions and did have great impact on me. With the help of personal stories (Joe’s finding and losing love, Zhang Lin’s having and losing all hope) it depicts the differences but more often the commonalities of two only outwardly different countries that probably won’t ever understand each other.  I didn’t warm up to the actors that much, though. I “recognised” Joe’s failures from a lot of distant colleagues, who live off lost glory, but Mark Winter didn’t make me care about him, he rather instilled a vague feeling of discomfort in me. I rather sided with Jason Chong, who did capture the life of someone who was eaten by his grief very well.

All in all it was another great night of theatre thanks to the Sydney Theatre Company in the Roslyn Packer Theatre. If you ever get there, try the restaurant. They serve yummie stuff!