Saturday, March 07, 2015


Watched the three-hour production by Beijing People's Art Theatre (北京人民艺术剧院)- 'Teahouse' by Lao She (老舍《茶馆》). The author's actual name is Shu Qingchun (原名舒庆春), born 3 February 1899. Written in 1957 when he was 58 years old, the three-act play spans five decades, revolving around the fortunes and eventual downfall of a popular Beijing teahouse named Yu Tai (北京的裕泰茶馆).

Had to study 'Teahouse' as requisite text at A'Levels for Higher Chinese and also General Paper in Chinese. o.O Don't even ask why I opted for that, in addition to what-used-to-be-called-S'Papers. Definitely enjoyed 'Teahouse' a thousand times more than ploughing through Cao XueqinGao Er and Cheng Weiyuan's 'The Dream of the Red Chamber' (《红楼梦》, 前八十回由曹雪芹著,后四十回的作者为高鹗和程伟元). Apparently the 'Teahouse' was staged in Singapore in 1986. Like...30 years ago; okaay, that is of no relevance to me. It is the now that I care about. Even though I could regurgitate about industrialization versus revolutions, irony and all those during exams, I probably didn't truly understand what they meant. Especially that last scene where the living flung paper money and sang a funeral song. Today, I do. 所谓 “葬送三个时代”。Dug out my old text and re-read it before attending the play.

Yu Tai Teahouse is owned by proprietor Wang Lifa (茶馆老板王利发), who only wished to retain and expand his father's business legacy, but in the end, failed to do so because it fell victim to the circumstances of the era, blown to pieces by the winds of economic and political change. It's a not-so-subtle commentary on Beijing/then-Peking society after the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911 till just before the Cultural Revolution.

有人问道为什么写《茶馆》,老舍回答道: “茶馆是三教九流会面之处,可以容纳各色人物。一个大茶馆就是一个小社会。这出戏虽只三幕,可是写了五十来年的变迁。” 

The acting was superb. The three hours flew by. The actors brought the characters to life, raised all pertinent themes and linked personal fortunes to the rise and fall of political systems. A teahouse is where most people gather in China back then. Dunno about now. But it would be very different in the bigger cities of Beijing and Shanghai. A teahouse sees so many characters; it's a microcosm of society and familiar stories of individuals persecuted. Well, feel free to liken a teahouse to our local kopitiams and its customers and how everything under the sun is discussed, from property prices, to social policies, CPF monies, Ministers, children and the prices of food and drinks, and uhhh how many times the trains break down, et cetera.

As we walked out of the theatre, I wonder, if Singapore would stage a play like that. Or even get a script going. You know, with this SG50 thing and all, to have a play written for the 50 years since independence in 1965. Bus riots, racial riots, Communists, those stuff. Or even before that, those tumultuous pre-war/post-war years. Not two musicals about one man's life against the backdrop of economic and historical milestones and contemporary achievements. I don't want a report card that has been relentlessly repeated and drilled like a manifesto. But I guess an honest script in a supposedly multi-racial society would be deemed too inflammatory, especially when the society is really more conservative than progressive. Not going to happen.

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