After three improvisational, radical plays this month at the Viaduct Theatre, it is a bit of a contrast to witness the naturalism and formality of Sailing Through the Three Gorges. Performed by the People s Art Theatre of Sichuan, on their first UK visit, the Viaduct is transformed into what, certainly to an Occidental mind, is an exotic almost enchanted space depicting the Yangtze river, “the M1 of China”.
The play is about domestic problems, the strife involved in maintaining a marriage, and a resolution that could only be described as a fairy tale ending. It is a play most powerful due to its universality and popular appeal and its intense emotions in the battle between love and duty.
If Li Ting s narrative is a soap opera or “social study”, then it is certainly one of eternal optimism compared to the British and Australian soap s generic pessimism. As a symbol of hope, a mystical red sailing boat appears, a quest for spirituality of a distinctly Oriental nature. With hope comes reconciliation and reunion after a long period of alienation.
The blocking is classical and fantastically exact, the Chinese ambience is both seductive and meditative, Li Yi Mei s design contemplative and almost Buddhistic, and the music a dialectic of popular and classical, stimulative and serene, with a bizarrely beautiful synthesis.
We are made aware of the dangers and rigours of the Yangtze river, transported into its monumental ebbs and flows - all this without a passport! Both form and content of the play portray a feeling of order and balance. This is despite the more Communist subject matter of social divide and status games - who is the Captain?
This is a rare opportunity to consider contemporary Chinese life and an even rarer one to see a fantastic, keenly focused, work of art.