The Orphan of Zhao (Nigerian production)
Genre: drama (in English)
Produced by the Drama section at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria, 1979
Script: Play by Chi Chun-hsiang, translated into English by Liu Jung-en, published in Six Yuan Plays, Penguin Classics 1972
Director: Tony Humphries
Background to the production:
In 1975, the Drama section at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria developed a theatre syllabus that sought to engage students critically, exploring the role of theatre in society, focussed particularly within the Nigerian and wider African context. In 1979, two plays were staged, one was a production of On the Road to Soweto written and directed by Salihu Bappa and loosely based on Brecht’s The Measures Taken. The other was The Orphan of Zhao, and the purpose was to provided first year students with their initial experience of taking a scripted play through to production, with rehearsals exploring how text, stylised movement, design and particularly music could combine to deliver a Total Theatre experience in the spirit of the Yuan plays as performed, demonstrating that theatre was far more than just the text.
See images of the production, the Studio Theatre and the Programme.
Below is the account of the production written by Tony Humphries as a response to Staging China project’s request:
THE ORPHAN OF ZHAO – NIGERIA 1979
The Drama section at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria developed a theatre syllabus that sought to engage students critically, exploring the role of theatre in society, focussed particularly within the Nigerian and wider African context. The Section had been established in 1975 by Michael Etherton, who had created the Chikwakwa theatre in Zambia between 1968 and 1972. He, together with Dr Brian Crow, formerly of Bristol University, had devised several productions transposing mainly Western texts and, working through improvisation with the students, creating plays that re-defined these texts within a contemporary Nigerian or African context.
Two plays were staged by the first year Drama students in its Studio Theatre on Sunday 20th, Monday 21st and Tuesday 22nd May 1979. One was a production of On the Road to Soweto written and directed by Salihu Bappa and loosely based on Brecht’s The Measures Taken. This production demonstrated the Section’s approach of developing plays through improvisation by the cast and explored, as recorded in the programme note, “what Black South Africans themselves are doing to uproot apartheid, liberate themselves and finally create a new society where all can live in an atmosphere of mutual cooperation, devoid of racial hate and tension and economic exploitation.”
The other play was The Orphan of Zhao, using the text written by Chi Chun-hsiang in the 13th century and translated into English by Liu Jung-en, published in Six Yuan Plays, Penguin Classics 1972. Its programme note, drawing on Liu’s Introduction explained to the audience that “Yuan Drama, considered by scholars as a Golden Age in Chinese Theatre, developed in Peking in the late 13th century, following the invasion of the Mongols. Many of the plays were written in the form of parables to protest at the erosion of Chinese values, particularly those of Confucius, under Mongol rule. The Orphan of Chao (sic) can be considered as an example of this type of play and the text has been taken as a basis of an experiment in stylised acting and Total Theatre.”
The Orphan of Zhao was directed by Tony Humphries, who also taught the Section’s Design course. (A 1973 graduate of Exeter University’s Drama Department, his interest in non-Western forms of theatre began in 1972 when, as part of his course work, he performed in three Noh plays and studied other Asian theatre forms.) His production provided first year students with their initial experience of taking a scripted play through to production, with rehearsals exploring how text, stylised movement, design and particularly music could combine to deliver a Total Theatre experience in the spirit of the Yuan plays as performed, demonstrating that theatre was far more than just the text. This production was not an attempt at historical reconstruction but rather tried to capture the essence of the performance style. An introductory lecture related the Yuan plays to other types of non-Western forms of theatre, including the early 17th century Yoruba Alarinjo court performances.
Rehearsals over a three week period sought to discover appropriate stylised movements as well as an individual musical theme or rhythm for each main character. Instruments used included a gong, cymbals, brass cups and a variety of drums and wood, with key dramatic moments being ‘framed’ in a tableau, capturing visually the core relationship and meaning revealed in the scene. Movements specific to Nigerian body conventions, and so immediately understood by the audience, were incorporated into the actors’ performance.
Design was a major element of this production, with a specially created T shaped playing area, with white screens at the top of the T provided a deliberately neutral backdrop for most of the action. The leg of the T ran through the audience area, providing an additional entry point to the main stage, most notably used for the highly stylised arrival of Tu’an Gu and his soldiers in Act Three at Gongsun Chujiu’s house, signalled by a cacophony of martial drumming. (This generated on the first night a round of applause, “very unusual at the Studio Theatre,” as Tony Humphries recorded in his diary.)
While many costumes were white and influenced by Chinese styles, key characters were differentiated by the tie-dyed colour of their robes’ inner, flowing sleeves e.g. purple for Zhao Dun. And in Act Four, as the seated Cheng Ying revealed to the orphan Cheng Bo his real identity and family history, he unfurled a scroll with bands of colour before him. As each character’s role was recounted, Cheng Ying indicated their colour on the scroll and they entered to hear their part in the tale, accompanied by their individual musical theme. These ‘ghosts’ then remained on stage to observe the finale, as Cheng Bo removed his robe with his adopted father’s colours of red and black, revealing his father’s purple robe beneath – the same actor played both parts - and took revenge on behalf of his family and those who had saved him from the brutalities of feudal tyranny exacted by Tu’an Gu.
Michael Etherton’s diary records that for the 21st May performance “The audience was, on the whole appreciative, though as a double bill, the (plays) really seemed to have no point of contact. Tony’s production has all the polish..... Salihu’s has commitment and content which is almost entirely lacking in the Chinese play.” By the 23rd, he notes that the “performances (were) very good indeed.” A visiting Drama lecturer who watched the dress rehearsal on the 20th considered the production of The Orphan of Zhao “very imaginative.”
Tony Humphries’ diary notes that a run through of The Orphan of Zhao on 17 May demonstrated “a sense of it being a good and worthwhile project for all involved.....and he felt “pleased by the ideas explored by the rehearsal process.” Performances “gained in pace and energy” and “responses were genuinely enthusiastic” to what was for many in the cast and audience their first experience of a very different form of theatre, one that had taken its inspiration from the Chinese Yuan plays.
-Tony Humphries (16 May 2013)
Images and the writing are courtesy of Tony Humphries.
剧本: 纪君祥原作，包括在《元杂剧六种》（Six Yuan Plays）之中，由 Liu Jung-en 翻译，企鹅出版社（Penguin Classics）1972年
导演： Tony Humphries
尼日利亚贝洛大学戏剧部开发了一个试图训练学生评判能力并积极参与的戏剧教学大纲，挖掘戏剧在现实社会中所扮演的角色，特别是聚焦在尼日利亚及更广泛的非洲环境之中。戏剧部由Michael Etherton 创建于1975年，他曾于1968-1972年间在赞比亚创建了Chikwakwa剧院。他和曾在布里斯托大学工作的Brian Crow博士一起策划了几部作品，主要是以置换方式改编西方剧本，通过学生即兴表演练习，创作了在当代尼日利亚和非洲环境下重新诠释的剧目。
《赵氏孤儿》由Tony Humphries执导，他同时也承担本部的设计课程。（Humphries 1973年毕业于Exeter大学的戏剧系，他对非西方戏剧形式的兴趣始于1972年，当时作为课程作业的一部分,他在三部日本能剧中担任角色，同时也学习了其他亚洲戏剧形式。） 他的《赵氏孤儿》为一年级学生提供了一个从剧本到舞台成品的过程。排练过程探索如何把文本、带有一定程式性质的形式化动作、舞台设计，尤其是音乐融合在一处，构成“全戏剧”，并传达出元杂剧的精髓，以此证明戏剧的涵义远远超过文本。这部作品不是尝试重构历史，而是试图捕捉表演风格的本质。绪论课在介绍元杂剧的同时，也介绍了其他类型的非西方的戏剧形式，包括17世纪初非洲Yoruba Alarinjo宫廷表演。
舞台设计是这部作品的主要元素，专门设计了一个T形表演区，T形表演区顶端的白色屏风为剧情的大部分行动刻意设置了一个中性的背景。T的支架穿过观众席，提供了通往舞台的又一个上场处，最引人注目的是第三场，以军鼓刺耳的声音为标志，屠岸贾和他的士兵以高度形式化的表演来到公孙杵臼家。(这些构思设计在演出第一晚掌声雷动， “这在实验剧场很不寻常” Tony Humphries在他的日记里写道。)。
——Tony Humphries (2013年5月16日)