27 Nov Blog | ‘MISSING’ IN CHINA – Part 2
The Shanghai Grand Theatre seats about 1600 people (and also houses a 600 seater and a 150 seater). There seems to be hundreds of dressing rooms; I get lost in there every day. The building itself is designed in the shape of a Chinese symbol for Theatre – In the words of Ryen (performer), “It’s badass”. We are in the main space and have already sold about 90% of the house. It’s very exciting.
Our Chinese crew are great. One of the team, Mr Song, worked on THE OVERCOAT last time we were here and is a big Gecko fan! Chris (Lighting) says, “It’s great to have him on the team as he can help us explain to venues why we are so annoyingly particular about every detail of the show.” Mr Song gets it, as do all of our new friends on our local crew. I really enjoy getting to know the teams of people we work with on international tours – interpreters and assistants are the best tour guides.
It takes me about 5 days to overcome the jet lag, which is longer than usual for me. In that time our technical team have slaved through a 3-day get in and the performers have performed to thousands of people. For them there is no time to recover from the jet lag or allow the stomach to adjust to the distinctly different diet. We have a show to do and it has to be brilliant first time!
Show one goes really well with Matt (Stage Manager) completing his first run of the show pretty much perfectly. After the performance we host a post show discussion with about 400 people. It’s great to chat and one audience member remarks, “It is so important to have you here and to have this conversation because it is so rare to be able to have this exchange with artists from across the world.” I manage to hunt her down later and we talk about theatre and the show until the venue chucks us out. Two things strike me from the post show:
1) There seems to be a universal truth about Gecko shows, which is that people consistently find their own way through the work. It may be that they dismiss it or do not enjoy the style or it may be that it is like nothing they have ever seen and that it means something very profound to them. But we can be in Bogota, London, Moscow or Shanghai and people choose to insert themselves into the show. One lady said very calmly, “I was Lily.”
‘PAUSE’ – Our friend Mr Song has just delivered a cake…!
…OK, cake devoured – ‘PLAY’.
2) I was struck by how irrelevant the multi language element of the work is here. It doesn’t make any difference for a Chinese speaking audience. They can’t spot the 9 languages in the show (they couldn’t even spot Chris’s feeble/valiant attempt to put some Mandarin in). That doesn’t matter to them. What matters is the emotion of the piece, the physical language. I find this really reassuring. In England we often have people worrying about how much they can understand the words of the show. English audiences worry quite a lot about ‘getting’ stuff. We worry about being ‘stupid’, and whether everyone else ‘gets it’? Am I MISSING the story because I don’t speak French? I never worry about being stupid anymore, but I did for ages; as an audience member I try to remind myself that the artist or company I am watching probably know what they are doing and I give myself over to that blindly. I’ll worry about what I ‘got’ from the show later. Having worked on THE OVERCOAT (12 languages), MISSING (9 languages) and INSTITUTE (4 languages) it has never bothered me that I only understand the English words. I would love to hear this show the way an Asian audience does; totally foreign, totally reliant on non-verbal communication…
As someone who has worked on MISSING from the very beginning, I understand as much as anyone the faults it may have. No piece of work is perfect. But after years of scrutinising every moment of it, opening it out to more and more varied possible interpretations whilst honing the precision and physical skilfulness, I am confident that Amit has made something which really speaks to people in a very unusual way – A way which is nearly impossible to quantify, and if they jump into the Gecko world our audience really can experience a very special theatrical event. The performers are world class and give everything, every show – as it should be, the technical team care deeply about the work and this is because they too realise that this is a show which moves people, often very deeply. Hearing the audience dissect the work so eloquently and having them offer up totally different angles on specific moments of MISSING really makes all the hard work worthwhile.
Our kind hosts later tell us that ‘Chinese Twitter’ is alive with people talking about the work, many of whom are saying that they went away with a lot to think about and discuss. I have always been a firm believer that if you are making work that lasts longer than the length of the running time then you are probably onto something interesting. Great shows embed themselves in conversations in the bar post-show and often for days after…. great shows split opinions (I don’t like War Horse very much, for example…don’t hate me), great shows make you think about the world a bit differently, if only for a few days… But above all, great shows are brave and uncompromising. Two words that describe Amit perfectly. I’m waffling now, maybe it’s the cake. Mmmm cake.
So where do you go to celebrate after a show in Shanghai – A cocktail bar on the 87th floor of the Jinmao tower (a must, by the way)? Or perhaps a restaurant where you cook your own food on a kind of boiling hot fondu set (a lot of fun, not ideal for people who are rubbish with chop sticks)? Alternatively, there is always a street corner vender waiting to cook up something special, just ask our crew – there are a few sore heads the morning after our Chinese crew treat our tech crew to an all night meal and beers in the street after the second show (highly recommended)!
Shanghai is alive with food and culture and it really is massively diverse. You can spend £2 on a meal or go next door and spend £250. The very old city and the very new city somehow manage to inhabit the same space. Gardens and parkland take over any nook which isn’t taken up by epic sky scrapers (which make London look like a little village in comparison). We walk around in awe, it’s a culture shock of the best kind. I am not a city person at heart, but I love it when a city knows exactly what it is and it goes for it. I love the chaos of Shanghai and its deadly silent electric mopeds which usually don’t have lights so you can’t see them until they are on top of you! Especially as they really enjoy driving along the path at night! I love the kindness of the people I have met, the openness. Everyone we have met so far has greeted us with patience and understanding. Everyone is willing to help us.
There is a sophisticated theatre audience in Shanghai, an audience hungry to be challenged and excited and inspired. It was great to meet so many of our audience after the first show. Shanghai has set the bar very high for our MISSING tour of China.
Next stop, Wuhan. Lonely Planet describes it perfectly – “A gargantuan alloy of three formerly independent cities, Wuhan is huge!”