Shakespeare in Chinese at the Globe Theatre

By Choon Tan – Arts and Entertainment Editor 

Many great literary classics from China have been translated into English over the years but it may surprise you to know that the works of Shakespeare are increasingly popular in China. And now these special Chinese versions are coming to the UK.

After a successful tour of China last year with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare’s Globe, the world-renowned theatre company located in Southwark in London, is introducing two shows this summer – both in Chinese. The National Theatre of China will perform Shakespeare’s historical play, Richard III in Mandarin from 20-25 July and from 17-23 August Hong Kong’s Tang Shu-wing Theatre Studio will present the tragedy Macbeth in Cantonese. Both will provide scene synopses in English.

Chinese versions are critically acclaimed

The two theatre companies producing the Chinese versions of these famous works are critically acclaimed; Tang Shu-wing has been described as the “alchemist of minimalist theatre”, while The Guardian gave Richard III a four-star review back in 2012 when they last performed it, calling it “A crisp, no-nonsense view to the play.” When they return in July it is sure to be just as popular as it was the first time round.

Written in approximately 1592, Richard III follows Richard, Duke of Gloucester’s cunning and manipulative quest for power as he rises up the Royal ranks by killing several people to eventually become King of England, though this reign of terror did not last long when he died two years after reaching his goal. Laurence Olivier, Peter Dinklage, Al Pacino and veteran Shakespearean Thespian Sir Ian McKellen are among some of the most famous actors who have played Richard.

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Macbeth was written between 1599 and 1606 and the main character shares similarities with Richard III, in that he desperately wants to become King (of Scotland). This plan also involved multiple murders, which were aided by his wife, Lady Macbeth, and both were subsequently haunted by guilt and paranoia. However, play’s plot was predominantly a work of fiction and not wholly based on the true story of the real Macbeth. Macbeth has been portrayed on stage and screen by the likes of James McAvoy, Peter O’Toole, Patrick Stewart and again, Ian McKellen.

Interest from the Chinese community

Performances of the two plays should also further boost interest from the Chinese community and increase the number of visitors who want to see and hear how they are translated into their own language and performed by Chinese actors. Last year, the Royal Shakespeare Company announced a £1.5 million project to translate all of Shakespeare’s works into Chinese and translate key Chinese plays into English in a bid to strengthen cultural ties with China. A number of Chinese theatre directors have also produced their own shows based on the Bard’s works, including a modern reworking of Romeo and Juliet by Tian Qinxin set in 20th Century China.

As well as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare’s Globe-To-Globe project has also previously taken Hamlet and The Taming of the Shrew around the world, which included stops in China and other East Asian countries.


Shakespeare’s Globe, London 

Shakespeare’s Globe was first built in 1599 as the Globe Theatre but has since been rebuilt twice – the most recent in 1997, when it was founded by American actor and director Sam Wanamaker and reopened under the name it is known by today. The Globe can accommodate 1,500 people and it attracts more than 1 million visitors – including many Chinese visitors – and generates more than £21 million per year, despite standing tickets continue to sell for just £5 each, meaning there has been no price increase since 1997. Seating tickets vary from £16-39. Today there are other similar theatres around the world in Argentina, Germany, Italy, Japan and the USA.

This article is produced by Nee Hao Magazine and sponsored by:

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