RSC to perform its first Chinese play in Stratford
Sometimes referred to as the Chinese Hamlet and tracing its origins to the 4th century BC, The Orphan of Zhao opens at the RSC in Stratford this week.
The Orphan of Zhao became the first Chinese play to be translated in the west and was adapted by Voltaire.
The RSC’s production, based in part on a version by Ji Junxiang which was published in 1616, has been adapted by James Fenton.
RSC artistic director Gregory Doran said of his decision to present the play, “The original tells of events in China's ancient past, over 2,000 years ago.
“It was probably originally written in the late 13th century, during the Yuan Dynasty, by Ji Junxiang.
“It was published during the reign of the feeble Ming Emperor, Wan Li, who ruled China during Shakespeare's lifetime.”
Doran adds, “I decided I had to find a copy and read this play.
“I was introduced to a lecturer from Leeds University called Dr Ruru Li. Ruru knew of more versions of the story and told me of one that had been performed in the early ‘60s before the terrors of the Cultural Revolution.
“Ruru encouraged me to consider The Orphan of Zhao as a living story and to tell our version, via the Ji Junxiang version, in our own way.
“This was the brief with which I approached James Fenton and it’s in this spirit of open enquiry that we have developed the play for the Swan this autumn.”
James Fenton adds, “At the heart of my version is the Yuan-dynasty play, which I often follow very closely.
“But where the play doesn't tell the whole story, I’ve invented and added new scenes, and elaborated on themes which I thought had interesting and unexpected resonances for a contemporary audience.”
The cast, who will also appear in Michael Boyd's production of Boris Godunov which starts next month, includes: Matthew Aubrey (Ti Miming), Adam Burton (The Assassin), Joe Dixon (Tu'an Gu), Lucy Briggs-Owen (Princess), Jake Fairbrother (Cheng Bo), Nia Gwynne (Dr Cheng's wife), Susan Momoko Hingley (Princess's maid), Lloyd Hutchinson (Han Jue), Joan Iyiola (Demon Mastiff), Youssef Kerkour (guard), Chris Lew Kum Hoi (ghost of Dr Cheng's son), Siu Hun Li (guard), Patrick Romer (Gongsun), James Tucker (Zhao Dun), Graham Turner (Dr Cheng), Stephen Ventura (Emperor Ling) and Philip Whitchurch (Wei Jang).
The play is designed by Niki Turner with lighting by Tim Mitchell and music by Paul Englishby. The sound design is by Martin Slavin and movement by Will Tuckett.
The Orphan of Zhao opens in the Swan Theatre on Tuesday (30 October), with press night on Thursday, 8 November. It runs until Thursday, 28 March.