On Friday, March 28th, the Youth Corps had the opportunity to attend the National Theatre of China’s production of Richard III at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. I was excited, yet skeptical, because I’m not much of a Shakespeare theatre goer. So I did some research on it and discovered that the play contained acrobatics, and was in Mandarin. But I decided to go anyway, and it was much different than I thought it would be.
Coming into the theatre, I was under the impression that the subheadings would be direct translations of the dialogue. But I was wrong. Although there were basic plot subheadings, the language barrier made it more difficult to understand the play. Before the show, Pip went through a super abridged version of Shakespeare’s eight major history plays, because Richard III is the conclusion of these plays. He used index cards to represent each character, and placed them on the table with their respective families. Learning about the histories both visually and orally, made it much easier to comprehend. If it weren’t for Pip’s “history lesson” before the show, I probably wouldn’t have understood what was going on.
Despite the language barrier, I found the play visually stunning. Fellow Youth Corps member, Kyla and I were discussing how cool we thought the scrolls onstage were. There were 6 scrolls with different Chinese characters, upstage center. Each time a person was killed, red dye would bleed from the top of one, and when something significant happened to Richard, black dye would bleed from all six scrolls. By the end of the play, all of them were soaked with red and black dye.
Upon discussing the plot Kyla told me something else she found interesting. She said, “Even though the play had a sort of dark theme to it, I liked the fact that the assassins were the comedy relief in the play. Usually killers are supposed to be serious, so I liked how the directors of the play took a different approach from the norm.” Another intriguing factor was the assimilation of Chinese culture. The actors wore traditional Chinese garments, which included long flowing robes. They also incorporated “ears” which are worn to represent a child, and they used an extremely high register, taken from Chinese opera, for the character Lady Anne.
Although it wasn’t what we were expecting, we enjoyed the show. There were far more laughs then there should have been for a History play, and I can honestly say I enjoyed being there.