'Charming taboo' Jiang Qing under scrutiny

Revolutionary Model Play 2.0, directed by Beijing-based Wang Chong, will be performed by Lasalle College of the Arts students.
Revolutionary Model Play 2.0, directed by Beijing-based Wang Chong, will be performed by Lasalle College of the Arts students.PHOTO: LASALLE COLLEGE OF THE ARTS

Reams of Chinese propaganda newspapers will be torn off the walls, while a steady crimson rain, signifying bloodshed during China's Cultural Revolution, will fall for an hour on stage at the upcoming Revolutionary Model Play 2.0.

This dramatic work scrutinises the life of Jiang Qing, wife of Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong.

The original commission for the Singapore International Festival of Arts would never have passed muster with the censors in China, says the play's Beijing-based director Wang Chong.

"She's definitely a charming taboo. You can't talk about her crimes because they're Mao's crimes. She is a person buried in the depths of Chinese history," adds the 33-year-old, speaking to Life at an interview last week at the Lasalle College of the Arts, where the multilingual play will be staged from next Wednesday.

About 17 students from the school's acting programme, speaking eight languages including English, Tagalog and Korean, form the show's cast.

  • BOOK IT / REVOLUTIONARY MODEL PLAY 2.0

    WHERE: Singapore Airlines Theatre, Lasalle College of the Arts

    WHEN: Sept 2 to 4, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $25 to $45 (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

    INFO: Go to sifa.sg

Wang, an acclaimed director who heads the Chinese experimental theatre troupe Theatre du Reve Experimental, has brought his signature meta-textual, self-reflexive style of directing to the play.

In fact, its title is derived from the propagandistic yangbanxi, or revolutionary model operas, conceived by Jiang during the Cultural Revolution, a radical sociopolitical movement led by Mao from 1966 to 1976 to preserve communism by purging capitalist elements.

Jiang's simplistic model operas, which were the only drama allowed then, were aimed at stoking revolutionary fervour and often featured Chinese peasants banding together to defeat enemies of the revolution.

Revolutionary Model Play 2.0 follows a writer, Yu Zhong Kai (Raphael Lecat), who attempts to write a play with that title about Jiang and the Cultural Revolution. He meets Roxane Witke (Sangeetha Dorai), an American biographer who has written extensively about Jiang, and dreams up other characters.

Lecat, 22, who is French but grew up in Singapore, says: "The hardest part was trying to make my character relatable, as he's a young writer who creates this play through his imagination. But I was also told to make him a bit weird, kind of like a mad scientist."

Both Wang and his collaborator, New York-based Chinese playwright Zhao Binghao, say they were inspired to do the production to lift the veil of secrecy hanging over Jiang.

The pair have worked together on productions such as The Warfare Of Landmine 2.0, a subversion of the popular 1960s communist film about how the Chinese people resisted Japanese troops using landmines.

But the play will contain "universal" themes, says Zhao, 27.

"We're talking about the evils of totalitarianism and the cultural dominance of dictators. We also explore the relationship between crowds and power. We tend to blame chairman Mao and Madam Mao, but we forget that most of the crimes were, in fact, committed by normal people," he adds.

There will be video excerpts of the original operas projected on a giant screen over the stage. Multiple cameras will be mounted to capture the show from different angles, a method Wang has used in his other shows.

He explains: "You still see what's on stage, but it's a new way of interpreting the action and you can see new perspectives."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2015, with the headline ''Charming taboo' Jiang Qing under scrutiny'. Print Edition | Subscribe