Blog | ‘The Dreamer’ in Shanghai

Here’s the first in a series of posts from our man in Shanghai.

There is just something about Shanghai that really gets me buzzing. The city has such character, such life. We are living and working in the French concession, a leafy maze of café’s and boutiques, the streets here are littered with innovatively adapted bikes and mopeds serving as vendors of anything from flowers to DVDs. The temperature rarely drops below 30 degrees at this time of year and is consistently muggy, but when you get used to it, it’s actually surprisingly pleasant. Kind of like walking to work in a sauna.

The theatre we are working with here is the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre and it’s pretty extraordinary. 600 employees stage 3 shows every night (Mondays off) across three venues, performing to around 1000 people. There is a combination of in-house productions and touring shows throughout the year. The majority of work is generated by the in-house company of performers, designers, technicians, directors and producers who work around the clock to make the building full of life and packed with people pretty much every day. On Thursday night we watched a huge classical production in the main house (where we will be performing ‘The Dreamer’) and then on Friday we watched a production of ‘A Streetcar named desire’ in Mandarin in one of the smaller spaces. The productions couldn’t have been more different, but they were both pretty spectacular to witness.

It’s exhilarating to be making work in this environment and ‘The Dreamer’, is already heavily influenced by the city and the people who live and work here. The performers we are working with are a mix of very experienced veterans and young newcomers, hungry for a new experience.

The show is inspired loosely on Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and a classic Chinese text called ‘The Peony Pavilion’. I have always loved Helena in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and we are using her as a central narrative and then just diving into a world of classic and contemporary dreams. Bottom is in there, and Titania and Oberon, the lovers are still causing trouble and the mechanicals are (as usual) very likely to steal the show. They are all there along with some new characters and some well known characters from the Chinese text.

We are making the show in just a few months, so we are having to make large leaps of faith as a creative team but so far the performers are generating some brilliant material. What we have to do now is wrestle with the themes and characters and ensure that whatever comes out of the devising process is the most emotionally true and universally human experience possible for the audience.

Over the next few weeks I will be telling some stories from our rehearsal room and from our insanely lucky experience of making a new show in China, in Mandarin, with an amazing venue, especially for our Chinese audience.