Royal Lyceum Theatre
When Chinese maestro Wu Hsing-kuo decided to tackle Shakespeare's
greatest tragedy, it was a deeply personal decision rooted in his own
creative turmoil. This becomes clear at the end of Wu's own production
for his Contemporary Legend Theatre company, when, following the
appearance of a scarlet-lit musical ensemble, he's lifted to the
heavens in silence as a kind of Zen purging of all his demons.
Prior to that, Wu plays the king with demonic brio, extravagantly robed
and bearded as he enters in a smoke-filled triangle of light into a
wilderness marked out with stone monoliths. A whirlwind of
primary-coloured movement is punctuated by the urgent clatter of Lee
Yi-Chin's live traditional Chinese score. Near child-like in his own
fanciful musings, Wu plays peek-a-boo hide and seek with his own
identity, only to erupt in a torrent of impatient rage as he strips
bare his disguise to become a solitary warrior caught in a storm.
After such a serious opening, the second part finds Wu flipping between
characters in a series of knockabout slapstick routines that see him
dragged up as each of Lear's daughters. It's an impressive display of
virtuosity that marries traditional Peking Opera techniques with
something more consciously modern. As a torrent of ticker-tape snow
falls mid-way through the second part, Wu chases his own tail in search
of salvation, his life out of balance but attempting to restore order.
For almost two hours Wu remains in total control, both of his own
performance as well as Lear's destiny as he finds some kind of peace at
last. After all this, even the curtain call is a masterpiece of
slow-moving choreography to savour.
The Herald, August 15th 2011