This play is based on a classic Chinese drama written by Guan Hanqing in 13th century. The source play is about injustice and I’m still pondering what the messages in this reworking were saying to me. I’m still considering Dou E’s fate, the injustice of what happened to Rocket in revenge for Dou E, drought and the impact of what we do to our planet. If that sounds mixed up it’s because I found this a multilayered thought-provoking play and I haven’t yet resolved my thoughts.
To back-track slightly, the play is set in modern-day China in a factory town called New Harmony. As the play opens the factories are about to be sold to a business woman from out-of-town, the seller is about to leave town, with his partner, for a new life and the townspeople are suffering from the effects of a drought that has lasted 3 years.
Then we find that the drought may be caused by the curse of a woman, Dou E, who was wrongly executed for murdering the father of the factory owner. As she is executed she vows that her blood will not fall but fly up and stain the banner above her, there will be a drought for 3 years and that snow will fall in midsummer and bury her body.
The play then unfolds Dou E’s story and resolves the curse.
I enjoyed seeing the play. I have no previous experience of Chinese theatre other than traditional Chinese opera (not to my taste!) so wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d read enough to know it was based on a 13th century play but hadn’t realised it wasn’t going to be a direct translation so the opening took me by surprise a bit.
I enjoyed the shades created by the staging; the bright neon lights of the town, the dingy lighting of the workers cafe and changing light around Dou E. There was also a great sense of movement around the actors on stage; movement through time as well as space and beliefs/attitudes. I think this sense of movement reflects China as I saw it when I visited and what I see on TV and in the papers.
I understood the desire of the ghost Dou E for the real murderer to be revealed but I felt it was unfair that poor Rocket bore the initial brunt of that seeking justice. Rocket had no part in what happened and was appalled when he found out so it seems unjust to me that he had to die. Even though I also understand he had to die to lay Dou E to rest and to punish the guilty. I know this sounds contradictory and confusing but that’s what I meant about still pondering the play; it created these contradictory feelings and, I guess, real life creates contradictions too which seems to me why so many people are moving from mainstream political parties towards people who appear to be promising to take them back to a simpler, safer past.
Overall, I thought the acting was good. I worked out one of the plot twists in advance but not the other. And I enjoyed the evening. I’m not sure I’m enjoying the ghosts now living with me until I untangle my thoughts about them a bit more!