SHAKESPEARE'S "Richard III" will be staged in Mandarin, with face masks and conventions of Peking Opera, next Friday during the China Shanghai International Arts Festival.
It is one of a number of stage performances by Chinese actors, some original, some Western, some infusing Chinese culture into Western works.
"Richard III" by the China National Theater was well-received in London at the Globe Theater where it premiered during the 2012 Olympics. It was also applauded in Beijing and will be making its premiere in Shanghai.
The tragedy about Richard's Machiavellian rise to power and brief reign is Shakespeare's second-longest play after "Hamlet" and is abridged, like most versions. But the original script is retained, down to the names of characters and places.
Directed by Wang Xiaoying, the production features China's Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) costumes, painted rice paper scenery panels, calligraphy, fine arts, traditional painted masks, elements of Chinese percussion and martial arts.
"We are presenting Shakespeare's work by a Chinese method, combining strong Chinese traditional cultural elements with Western classical dramatic work. But it is not a simple mixture, it's a modern expression," says producer Li Dong.
Some critics have said the Chinese elements inject new vitality into the universal story.
Wang borrows three witches from "Macbeth." Fight scenes are combined with kung fu from China's traditional operas and two opera performers play the role of assassins attempted to kill Richard at London Bridge.
"The combination of Chinese operas and Western classical drama is accepted by most audiences and this proves the progress of Chinese culture," Wang emphasizes.
"This version is permeated with the skills of Chinese operas, the Chinese artistic spirit, traditional performance styles and stage setting. It is not a Chinese opera but like a Chinese opera," Wang says.
The English original contains more than 50,000 words and has been shortened to around 27,000 words, based on the classical Chinese translation by Liang Shiqiu (1903-1987).
Richard, described in the original as having a deformity, is not depicted in the Chinese version as ailing.
"He is physically healthy but sick in mind. This tells the audience that when a person is controlled by endless desires, he will resemble this bloody and cruel Richard III," says Xu Xiaozhong, the artistic director of the China National Theater. This representation inspires deeper reflection, he says.
Director Wang calls the entire dramatic experiment "very risky and challenging" but says the positive audience response demonstrated the success of this thespian mix and match.
Other innovative Chinese performances will also be staged during the arts festival. The ballet "Peony Pavilion" by the China National Ballet Company is adapted from a Kunqu Opera version. The play, shocking when it was first performed in 1598, emphasizes the importance of personal freedom and romantic love. The ballet seeks to explore characters' inner world, breaking convention and pursuing love.
The troupe, which is more than 50 years old, has focused on creating new Chinese-style ballet works that integrate artistic forms of Western ballet, says Liu Wenguo, arts director of the ongoing Shanghai arts festival.
Half of the performances in the festival are high-quality original works by Chinese troupes, says Liu.
The Shanghai Drama Arts Center will present the original work "The Piano in a Factory." It's the story of a factory worker who builds a steel piano for his daughter with a group of ordinary workers who fight for their dignity.
Henan Theater will stage the large-scale drama "Red Flag Canal" about the building of Red Flag Canal by the people of Linxian County, Henan Province.
It depicts the arduous physical and emotional effort in building the canal.