RSC’s Snow in Midsummer: A contemporary re-imagining of a Chinese classic

Photos credit: Ikin Yum

Snow in Midsummer is a contemporary re-imagining of an ancient and haunting story, one of the most famous classical Chinese dramas.

Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s new version of Guan Hanqing’s tale is presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company in the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon from 23 February – 25 March.

Executed for a murder she did not commit, young widow Dou Yi vows that if she is innocent, snow will fall in midsummer and a catastrophic drought will strike. 

Three years later, a businesswoman visits the parched, locust-plagued town to take over an ailing factory. When her young daughter is tormented by an angry ghost, the new factory owner must expose the injustices Dou Yi suffered before the curse destroys every living thing.

Katie Leung, best known for her role as Cho Chang in the Harry Potter film series, plays Dou Yi.

Justin Audibert returns to the RSC to direct Snow in Midsummer, having previously directed The Jew of Malta in 2015. We caught up with him to find out about his experiences preparing to direct the play:

Justin Audibert

Why did you want to direct Snow in Midsummer?

Snow in Midsummer is a truly epic story that has betrayal, revenge, ghosts, a precocious child and a plague of locusts. What’s not to like? It’s both ancient and contemporary and feels like a brilliant prism through which to look at human behaviour in 2017.

How does this version differ from the original Chinese play?

Frances has written a contemporary re-imagining so although it explores the same themes of injustice, spiritual rectitude and corruption that the original does it does so whilst addressing the world in 2017, so it also looks at the excesses of free market capitalism in the 21st century and has the tone of a contemporary horror story.

How do you feel people will respond to the controversial elements of the play?

I hope we deal with them in a manner that has integrity and is necessary for the story but ultimately you cannot as a Director control how an audience will respond. A work of art should ask questions of its audience, not give them answers or tell them how to think.

Tell us about the research trip you took to China before you began directing the play.

To prepare myself to direct Snow in Midsummer, we went to three places – we flew to Beijing and spent a couple of days there, travelled to Huai’an where the story was originally set, and then finished off in Shanghai. One of the most incredible parts of the trip was our visit to Huai’an where Gwan Hanqing wrote and based Snow in Midsummer.  The thing that stayed with me the most about my research trip to China was the up to date, tech-savvy consumerist society that exists alongside an incredibly deep reverence for tradition and antiquity. Interestingly, the two live harmoniously side by side. In some ways they clash, but in others they’re actually very complimentary.

Don’t miss Snow in Midsummer in the Swan Theatre from 23 February. To buy tickets, visit www.rsc.org.uk/snow-in-midsummer/tickets or call the Box Office on 01789 403493. Tickets are priced from £16.

To find out more about travelling to Stratford-upon-Avon visit the RSC website: www.rsc.org.uk/your-visit/getting-here

Please note this play contains some strong language and scenes of violence. This play is performed in English.

* This article is sponsored by The Royal Shakespeare Company

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