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Reviewed by:
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Wu Hsing-kuo
  • Iris Hsin-chun Tuan
A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Directed by Wu Hsing-kuo and produced by Contemporary Legend Theater. National Theater. 24–27 March 2016.

To celebrate the four-hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death Taiwan as well as the UK paid tribute to the Bard. A Midsummer Night’s Dream premiered in Taipei in March 2016 done by Contemporary Legend Theater (CLT), registering issues of tradition and modernity in Taiwan’s Intercultural Shakespeare from the perspective of translocality. CLT’s production supports ideas advanced by Huang in Chinese Shakespeares (2009) challenging fidelity, authenticity, and cultural exclusivity of Shakespeare as confined to Anglophone Shakespeares. This performance combined Chinese and Western elements trying to realize its dream of innovation. Shakespeare has become an iconic brand—via glocalization, re-visualized in ways that bring modernity from tradition.

CLT’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream followed Shakespeare’s plot and was performed mainly in Chinese, but with some monologues in English, and a little Taiwanese and Japanese. The productions used fashionable, contemporary costuming. More traditional jingju singing was mixed with Broadway-esque tunes. The overall effect represented modernity. The free adaptation of traditional elements in this piece resembled what one might expect of Ninagawa Yukio, Ariane Mnouchkine, or Ong Keng Sen. The production provided an interesting focus on the fairy world, but was not without its weaknesses.

Asian Shakespeare performances in Taiwan largely began in the 1980s in the Colleges Theater Performance Competitions and the developing little theatre movement (see Tuan 2007). The tertiary level students either translated works into Chinese or performed Shakespeare in English in these competitions or for performances in their departments of English or Foreign Languages [End Page 231] and Literatures. Though the first efforts may have been amateur, things changed with time. For example, Lee Kuo-hsiu (Hugh K. S. Lee, 1955–2013) and his company Pingfeng Acting Troupe (Pingfeng Biaoyan Ban), staged the successful production Shamlet (1986–2014, a deconstructed Hamlet). This play which has been discussed by Huang (2005) and Diamond (1995) is a farce with the structure of a play-within-a-play, about a mediocre touring troupe staging Hamlet, advertised as Shamlet due to the troupe’s printing error. Shamlet was “filled with technical and performance blunders, backstage intrigues and stabbings behind each other’s backs. In a way, the play provides a mirror to the mixed qualities of burgeoning theatrical companies since the 1980s” (Liu, quoted in Wetmore, Liu, and Mee 2014: 132). Shamlet helped lead the way in localizing Shakespeare. Soon, professional theatre companies staged Shakespearean performances: this included CLT’s Kingdom of Desire (1986, from Macbeth), War and Eternity (1990, from Hamlet), Lear Is Here (2000, from King Lear), and The Tempest (2004); Godot Theatre Company did Othello (2008) and Kiss Me Kate (1997, the musical based on The Taming of the Shrew), and New Taming of the Shrew (1994); and Tainaner Ensemble did Witches’ Sonata—Macbeth Poetry (2003) and two works inspired by Romeo and Juliet: Shakespeare Unplugged—Romeo and Juliet (2004) and K24-Chaos (2005). Taiwanese theatre companies—such as Stan Lai’s Performance Workshop (with works like Lear and the 37fold Path of a Bodhisattva, 2000), Wu Hsing-kuo’s CLT, and Liang Chi-Ming’s Godot Theatre—have performed their Shakespeare works in Taiwan and toured internationally, often to be enthusiastically received by audiences.

Facing the decline of jingju in Taiwan CLT has since the 1980s sought to renew the tradition by imbuing it with modern elements (see Huang 2009; Diamond 1994). CLT’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a Taiwanese dream and showed local cultural imagination: the images, media, and performance manifested both xiqu and Shakespeare, allowing the intangible cultural heritage of jingju to coincide in a work of modernity.

Adapting Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Wu Hsing-kuo, as artistic director of the company and its lead actor, used a script adaptation written by the well-known Chinese novelist Chang Ta-chuen, with some of the original (English) speeches. Wu Hsing-kuo played Oberon/Theseus and the female lead Wei Hai-min, Titania/Hippolyta. However, much of the appeal and...


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