北京大学艺术学院中文  English
[Feb. 2, 2017] London's First Chinese Comedy Festival

This year, on the 29th January 2017 the Happy Chinese Comedy Festival launched its seven short plays in London in English and Mandarin. It was performed at RADA, E15 Acting School, University of Essex, the Concert Artistes Association, and Soho Theatre with top actors Linghui Tu, Hanchi Hu and others from East 15 Acting School, and RADA. The festival was set-up by National Centre for Research into Intercultural Communication of Arts (NCRIA), Peking University and supported by Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Education.  

Timed coincidentally with Chinese New Year as a time of celebration, this was a great opportunity to bring the great tradition of Chinese opera to foreign audiences, says Producer Yi Lin, Professor of Intercultural Communication and Arts Management at Peking University, and Director of NCRIA. It is part of the push to promote UK-China cultural exchange, and Chinese culture globally. The festival reached local, global and overseas Chinese audiences.  

As a form of art, comedy in China has a thousand-year history and is renowned for its sheer variety. The seven plays were selected to reflect the country’s cultural heritage and society today: the traditional Peking and Kunqu opera plays Picking up the Jade Bracelet, Love in the Box and The Miser; the contemporary plays The Policeman and the Thief, adapted from a popular TV drama, I Love My Family; A Day in the Office tells a story happened in a modern set of an office presented with Peking Opera performance skills. A final play written by English playwright, Noel Howard set in Shanghai called Private Lives was added to the mix.

Each play was given a brief introduction by bilingual presenter and Guzheng player, Li Lin which provided the cultural context for the audience. She shared her insights of the unique qualities of Chinese comedy and the similarities it has with traditional Shakespearian comedies.

The seven plays touched on both traditional and modern China, and provided a snapshot of the history of one of the world’s oldest civilisations. Love in the Box set in the Qing dynasty tells the story of a young woman, Cui Lan played by Linghui Tu who hides her gentleman visitor in a box from her brother, played by Yuyang Liu. This was at a time when a woman’s chastity was to be protected, and when men and women were forbidden to be alone. A Day in the Office played by Linghui Tu sees a new female manager getting her first taste of power in a corporate environment, at a time when there was a rise of the career woman in post-socialist China.


Out of all the plays, it was The Miser that shone, performed entirely in Mandarin by lead actor Hanchi Hu; he plays a stingy official who goes to all lengths to save money. ‘The Miser was the most enjoyable because it was very traditional and dramatic,’ says a local audience member. ‘I thought the festival was particularly fun for Chinese people who have been in the UK for a long period of time. It was an original way to perform Chinese comedy in English that showed Chinese arts and culture. I particularly enjoyed The Policeman and the Thief, says Ms Lee.’ A fellow drama RADA coursemate of one of the actors, said she really liked the plays.

By mixing Chinese and English cultural elements, it creates an unusual and interesting genre of theatre. For it to resonate and speak to an English audience was one of the key challenges, it involved a process of selection, translation and adaptation of the plays. Ellis Jones, former Vice-Principal of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) a cultural advisor for the festival helped refine the plays for an English audience. He explained the contemporary plays, were used as a basis in producing the festival as they had common reference points. ‘Follow the Money set in reform era China, when ‘China is flooded with capitalism’ is a story that local audiences can recognise and understand,’ he adds.

National Class-One performer in China and Co-Director of the festival, Linghui Tu who has 45 years of acting experience explains the process of translating Chinese theatre dialogue into English. Chinese theatre is very strict in ensuring the lines have a perfect rhythm and read like poetry. So adapting it to a local audience required conveying the same meaning in English to a Chinese rhythm. But because English typically use more words than Chinese to express the same meaning, she was required to shorten the number of words.  


‘China is much more than just martial arts and lion dances, and has so much more to offer,’ says Yi Lin. Optimistic that this is just the beginning of China’s journey in exporting culture abroad for local audiences, she sees a great creative space for UK-China cultural exchange. There will be possibly future collaborations, the potential to adapt local Londoners stories and add a cultural twist.





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