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West meets east in London opera show
Last Updated: 2016-09-26 17:34 | China Daily UK
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Britain's William Shakespeare and his Chinese contemporary, Tang Xianzu, are united after four centuries in a new Chinese Kunqu Opera at "The Actors' Church", St. Paul's, in London's Covent Garden.

The production, A Shakespearean Handan Dream, combines parts of the two classical masters' works and compares similarities of emotions and themes, such as death, power and ambition.

The Chinese part centers on Tang's play Handan Dream, which is interwoven with fragments of Shakespeare in English, featuring characters including King Lear and Macbeth.

The production, with British and Chinese actors performing in their own languages, is part of cultural events this year commemorating the 400th anniversary of the deaths of both Britain's and China's most celebrated playwrights. It also forms part of Nanjing Week within the 2016 London Design Festival.

"What fascinates me is the fact that 400 years ago there were two amazing playwrights who did not know each other, but who wrote plays with so much in common. They both explore the idea that we are all hungry for power and authority, but ultimately those things are worthless in the face of death," said Leon Rubin, who co-directed the production with Chinese counterpart Ke Jun.

Similar themes

Handan Dream is the last of Tang's four masterpieces. In the original text, frustrated scholar-official Lu Sheng dreams of a 50-year political career of success and glory, excess and failure, but wakes to find no time has passed.

The play looks at the transience of human existence and futility of earthly desire and ambition.By combining it with similar themes from Shakespeare's work, the adaptation compares attitudes and cultures in Elizabethan England and Ming Dynasty China.

The Chinese director and lead actor Ke Jun is an award-winning Kunqu Opera performer and a key practitioner of "new-concept Kunqu".

Chinese performer swear traditional costumes, with elaborate headdresses, colorful traditional robes and heavy facial makeup. The British performers dress in traditional Shakespearean costumes.

Georgiana Dacombe, an artist from London who saw the show, said it was "spectacular and beautiful".

"It is a brilliant idea to combine the Chinese and English parts together in the production and draw out the commonalities between the two," she said.

Cameron Manson, a student from the East 15 drama school, was impressed with the way actors connected with characters created four centuries ago to show certain human emotions are common and universal.

Kunqu Opera was recognized by UNESCO in 2001 as an intangible cultural heritage.

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