Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts 2017

Classic play has new cast on board

Secret Love In Peach Blossom Land (above) by Performance Workshop plays at the Esplanade Theatre on Feb 11 and 12.
Secret Love In Peach Blossom Land (above) by Performance Workshop plays at the Esplanade Theatre on Feb 11 and 12.PHOTO: ESPLANADE - THEATRES ON THE BAY
Gao Bowen.
Gao Bowen.PHOTO: ESPLANADE - THEATRES ON THE BAY

Thirty years after Secret Love In Peach Blossom Land was first staged, the profound emotions wrapped up in the play remain vivid and urgent.

For the cast in the 30th-anniversary production of the classic play by celebrated playwright Stan Lai, this has meant shedding many tears - of joy, sorrow and bittersweet aching - both on- and off-stage.

The anniversary edition by Lai's Taiwan-based theatre company Performance Workshop will play at the Esplanade on Feb 11 and 12.

Director Ismene Ting, who is in her 50s, says emotions ran so high during rehearsals that she would sometimes deliberately skip over the sentimental parts.

Speaking in Mandarin over the telephone from Taiwan, she says: "When we get to a scene near the end, all the actors at the rehearsal will cry and wonder later why they're still crying after having watched the scene so many times."

  • BOOK IT /SECRET LOVE IN PEACH BLOSSOM LAND

  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Feb 11, 2 and 8pm; and Feb 12, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $38 to $118 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

The iconic Mandarin contemporary play is based on the premise of a theatre double-booked by two troupes which have to share the stage during rehearsals.

One troupe is performing Secret Love, a modern tragic drama about a couple separated by the communist takeover of mainland China. Another is staging Peach Blossom Land, a period comedy about a fabled paradise based on the writings of the fourth-century poet Tao Yuanming.

As scenes from the two plays interrupt each other, they also meld to surface universal themes of love and longing, and the burden of memory and history.

When the play was first performed in 1986, it won critical acclaim for its intricate structure of two plays within a play and its many layers of meaning, including deft references to the strained political and cultural relationship between Taiwan and China, and the yearning for utopia.

The play has continued to delight audiences through the years, including those in Singapore, with the theatre company staging a 20th- anniversary edition at the Esplanade in 2007.

The latest edition will feature tweaks in staging as well as the director's fresh interpretation of the play.

Ting, who acted in the play in 1991 and 1999 as the wife of a fisherman in Peach Blossom Land, says she used to think the reunion between the couple in Secret Love, after decades of separation, was full of grief.

"But now, I feel their tears should carry a sense of comfort because, although they were apart for 40 years, they were on each other's minds the whole time and, at the end, they were reunited."

As for her return to the play to helm the milestone production, the experience, she says, has been about passing on the legacy to a new generation of theatre practitioners.

The cast is made up of actors who have not performed in the play before and who came of age during the play's early years. They include actress Chu Jr-ying, who won Best Actress at Taiwan's Golden Bell Awards for television last year, and well-known Taiwanese television and stage actor Chu Chung-heng.

In a telephone interview from Taiwan, actor Chu, 49, who plays the role of fishmonger Yuan in Peach Blossom Land, says watching the ground-breaking play 30 years ago filled him with a sense of hope and direction about being an actor in Taiwan.

"But I never thought I would take part in it one day," he says, adding that it is a dream come true for him.

Similarly, it is with great excitement, rather than pressure, that actress Chu, 34, takes on the heavyweight role of the female lead, Yun Zhifan, in Secret Love. She says: "I hope the audience will come relaxed, ready to laugh and cry with us and be a part of the collective memory of this classic play, and allow it to carry on for another 30 years."


Other highlights

ACTOR, FORTY

Singapore actress Yeo Yann Yann returns to the Chinese theatre stage in an original monologue by The Necessary Stage playwright Haresh Sharma, directed by Alvin Tan. Yeo blurs the lines between actor and character in this piece about an actress who is turning 40, has just been cast in a film remake and is trying to keep her first pregnancy under wraps.

Where: Esplanade Theatre Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive When: Feb 3, 8pm; Feb 4 and 5, 3 and 8pm; and Feb 6, 8pm Admission: $38

YOGA LIN

The Taiwanese Mandopop singer will make his debut at the Esplanade Concert Hall in an intimate concert, with songs from his latest album Sell Like Hot Cakes.

Where: Esplanade Concert Hall, 1 Esplanade Drive When: Feb 3, 8pm Admission: $58, $78, $98, $128 and $158

HAYA: MIGRATION - A WORLD MUSIC CONCERT

Mongolian band Haya, known for performing on Chinese reality television series I Am A Singer, blend modern elements with traditional instruments and techniques such as throat singing, the Mongolian horsehead fiddle and shaman drums.

Where: Esplanade Concert Hall When: Feb 4, 8pm Admission: $38 and $58

CHINA MUSIC HOUSE: PINGTAN X JAZZ

An experimental concert by China Music House infuses the 400-year-old storytelling art of Suzhou pingtan with modern jazz. It features the likes of Gao Bowen, vice-president of the Shanghai Pingtan Troupe, and up-and-coming pingtan artist Lu Jinhua.

Where: Esplanade Recital Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive When: Feb 8, 7.30pm Admission: $35

OFFENDING THE AUDIENCE

This special Huayi commission directed by Liu Xiaoyi adapts Austrian playwright Peter Handke's 1966 experimental play of four nameless performers with no plot for the Mandarin stage.

Where: Esplanade Theatre Studio When: Feb 10, 8pm; Feb 11, 3 and 8pm; and Feb 12, 3pm Admission: $38

PIA: FUNNY WAY OF MY LIFE

Quirky Taiwanese indie singer- songwriter PiA experiments with rock, jazz, funk and Motown to create ballads of everyday life.

Where: Esplanade Recital Studio When: Feb 10, 7.30pm Admission: $30

ELI HSIEH: PROGRESS REPORTS

Taiwanese singer Hsieh, who took part in the One Million Star singing competition when he was just 13, will perform songs from his new album.

Where: Esplanade Recital Studio When: Feb 11, 7.30pm Admission: $30

WUXIA - THEME SONGS FROM MARTIAL ARTS MOVIES AND SERIALS

The theme songs from classic martial arts films and television serials, such as The Legend Of The Condor Heroes and The Heavenly Sword And The Dragon Sabre, are brought to life by the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, led by music director Yeh Tsung and featuring iconic Cantonese singer Johnny Yip.

Where: Esplanade Concert Hall When: Feb 11, 7.30pm Admission: $38, $58 and $88

KELLY POON: MY K SONGS

The Singapore singer, who won the inaugural Project SuperStar singing contest in 2005 and has five albums under her belt, will perform her original compositions and share stories from her music career.

Where: Esplanade Recital Studio When: Feb 12, 5pm Admission: $30

•All tickets from Sistic (go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555). All prices exclude booking fees. For more information, go to www.esplanade.com/huayi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 22, 2016, with the headline 'Classic play has new cast on board'. Print Edition | Subscribe