Tadashi Suzuki returns to the Chinese capital with his radical reworking of the Shakespearean classic King Lear to launch this year's NCPA International Theatre Festival, Chen Nan reports.
It was a cold and snowy night 35 years ago when the legendary Japanese theater director Tadashi Suzuki premiered his version of the classic Shakespearean tragedy King Lear, performed by actors on an outdoor stage in the mountains of Toyama prefecture on Japan's Honshu island.
Among the audience that night in the village where the director and his Suzuki Company of Toga are based were theater critics from the United States and Europe, who were so impressed by the play that they later took it to the West.
In 1988, the play toured the US for six months, which saw American actors stage more than 100 shows before later opening at the Moscow Art Theatre featuring an all-male Russian cast.
In 2014, Suzuki brought the play to China for the first time collaborating with a group of young Chinese actors, including actor Tian Chong, then aged 25, who played the lead role.
Five years later, the play is now returning to the capital with three performances having been staged at the National Center for the Performing Arts from Thursday to Saturday.
With actors from five countries-China, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the US, who all perform in their mother tongues onstage, the play opened the 2019 NCPA International Theatre Festival.
"We've been staging King Lear for more than 30 years now and we have never stopped adding new ideas into the play, which keeps it alive," said Suzuki at the NCPA on June 4. "I always want to create plays that can be shared by people from different cultures. King Lear fulfills my vision for melding different cultures into a play."
All the actors received training from Suzuki, who is known for his "Suzuki method" of acting. The director, who was born in Shizuoka, Japan, in 1939, has been a theater pioneer since he was a college student at Waseda University. He has developed his own method of training actors, which focuses on the human body's expression of animal energy as the basis for theater performance.
In his adaptation of King Lear, Suzuki sets the story in a nursing home, where a nurse reads to an old man from William Shakespeare's King Lear. As he looks back on his life, the elderly man's memories begin to merge with the story of the play. The old king divides his kingdom among his three daughters, Edgar, Goneril and Regan, but the story ends up in betrayal and death. The old man, who is abandoned by his family, also dies of madness and despair in the end.
"It's a fusion of reality and fantasy. I was inspired by the fact that many elderly people stay in nursing homes now. They are left behind and die alone," says Suzuki, 80. "The play has been well received worldwide because it's seen as a common social problem affecting lots of countries, including Japan and China."
In 2017, Suzuki staged two of his plays, Dionysus, which was adapted from the ancient Greek tragedy The Bacchae, and The Trojan Women, which is based on a tragedy dealing with the Trojan War, both penned by the Greek playwright Euripides.
After King Lear, 10 plays from Russia, Germany, Britain and China will be staged in 42 shows during the 2019 NCPA International Theatre Festival, which runs through September.
Since 2015, the NCPA International Theatre Festival has been offering international theatrical productions, dialogue sessions, art exhibitions and theater workshops to audiences.
Highlights of this year's festival will include a rendition of Don Juan by Bulgarian director Alexander Morfov of the Komissarzhevskaya Theater of St. Petersburg, Russia, and the NCPA's Chinese version of Jane Eyre based on English writer Charlotte Bronte's popular novel of the same title which premiered at the NCPA a decade ago.
The Chinese play, Love Letter, which is directed by Russian dramatist Yury Eremin, will close the festival. Revolving around the romance between the two lead characters spanning from 1975 to 2015, the play, which features well-known TV host Zhou Tao in the lead role, premiered in Beijing on Aug 16, 2018, and toured China last year.