20 August, 2011

Continental Shifts: All the World’s a Stage

By Alice Longhurst

Today, Shakespeare’s plays are performed all over the world in a diverse range of languages, styles and forms and the global artistic fusions the bard invites are well represented at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival.

The programme boasts several Shakespeare-inspired productions – the dramatic Korean TheTempest, a solo King Lear performed in Mandarin by Taiwanese actor Wu Hsing-kuo and the Chinese Peking Opera version of Hamlet, entitled The Revenge of Prince Zi Dan.

To accompany these performances the Festival brought together Korean director of The Tempest Tae-Suk Oh, the Chinese Shakespeare expert Alexander C Y Huang and theatre critic Michael Billington to discuss the significance of these unique productions at an event entitled All the World’s a Stage.

As one of the world’s favourite playwrights, the relevance of discussing how Shakespeare can be fused with other traditions is obvious. Indeed the history of exporting Shakespeare, Huang explained, goes all the way back to the playwright’s own lifetime. In 1610 Hamlet was taken to Jakarta, then part of the Dutch West Indies.

Since then the plays have spread across the world, the stories intermingling with local cultures, reaching new people and societies and being used by them to express their own feelings and troubles. Master Oh explained that as The Tempest is not based on historical events or specific myths it provided the ideal play to help him encourage forgiveness in Korea, where he feels growing hatred, and to allow him to convince his domestic audiences of the need to preserve the beauty of the Korean language which is currently threatened by technological advances.

So what can we in the west learn from these unfamiliar performances? The panel seemed to agree that we know Shakespeare almost too well. Using the motifs and methods of a completely different culture can bring a distance from the work and force us to see it in a different way. While we may not understand the meanings of the music, costumes and symbolism used in productions like The Tempest, there is much we can gain by being forced to use our imaginations and to really think for ourselves about the significance of the tales played out before us.

This insightful discussion was part of the Festival’s Continental Shifts series, in association with the British Council, which bring together a variety of performers, writers, academics and cultural specialists. Forthcoming events include Global Philosophies on Monday 22 August when Scottish author Christopher Brookmyre and philosophers Dr Richard Holloway and Tu Weiming will explore the changing face of world religion, two discussions of India’s position on the world stage on Saturday 27 August and two events focusing on China – How Chinese Money is Changing the World and Contemporary Chinese thought.

The Continental Shifts series is presented in association with the British Council and all events take place in The Hub, Castlehill, Edinburgh.

The Edinburgh International Festival runs from 12 August – 3 September. Browse and book online at eif.co.uk or call 0131 473 2000.

All the World’s a Stage
Monday 15 August, 2.30pm

Global Philosophies
Monday 22 August, 2.30pm

How Chinese Money is Changing the World
Wednesday 24 August, 2.30pm

Saturday 27 August, 2.30pm

A Changing India
Saturday 27 August, 5pm

Contemporary Chinese Thought
Monday 29 August, 2.30pm

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