top of page 9-16-2014


IBSEN IN ONE TAKE Breaks New Ground

Barry Lenny


Ibsen in One Take sends each person away with a different experience that depends on where they look at any moment. A large screen projects what is being selected by the cinematographer, and also has English subtitles at the bottom, whilst there is live action on the stage, some of which does not appear on the screen.


A close-up of the face of just one member of a couple talking might be all that is in the video projection, but on stage we see both people and the table they are sitting at. At the same time in another pool of light, another couple might be sitting on a bench in a separate part of the stage, their conversations being heard, but they do not appear on screen, as the video is still on that one person. Simultaneously, an old man might walk silently across the stage, in an unlit area, carrying a small case.


The cinematographer and his assistant are also moving around, sometimes with the camera hand held, and sometimes on a gantry. Later there is video, but with no on stage action. With so many elements to watch, as well as the dialogue to keep up with, some reading the translations and others listening to the dialogue in Chinese, there is no chance that any two people would have an identical perspective on the performance.


This all makes for exciting theatre.


Norwegian playwright, Oda Fiskum, presents the life of a man, referred to only as "him", from childhood to old age, where we find that he is in hospital, a stroke victim. She drew, we are told, on a number of plot points from 27 of Ibsen's plays. Our first sight of Him is as an old man, played by Tan Zongyuan, and he is wearing pyjamas, bent, shuffling, and alone, save for the nurse, played by Zhang Yezi. His memories and dreams, appearing as flashbacks, jumping to and fro across his life, tell his story and of his relationships with others.


Yang Boxiong plays Him as a child, abused by his father, played by Liu Xiaqing, for his interest in playing music instead of concentrating on more serious matters. Li Jialong plays Him as both a young man and as an adult, closer to his mother, played by Fang Li, than to his father. Zhang Yezi returns as his girlfriend, and Zhao Hongwei plays his wife. At the end his marriage has failed, he is alienated from his son, and it seems that he will die alone until a poignant moment when his son visits.


Stage and screen acting techniques differ and often an actor who works well in one genre doesn't make the transition to the other, while others are able to switch between the two with ease. In this case, however, the actors are expected to perform in both styles of acting at once. Without the excellence of the performances that we saw from every member of the cast, this could not work. The difficulty of working to camera and to an audience at the same time is enormous, but their great skills, coupled with the astute direction of Wang Chong, brought everything together perfectly.


The spirit of Ibsen could certainly be felt in this work, with its bleakness, conflict, dysfunctional relationships and emotional highs and lows. There is a great deal to absorb and to consider which, of course, led to considerable discussion afterwards in the foyer. Hopefully, we will see more work from this director and theatre company in years to come.

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