Haunting Nanluoguxiang

Nicholas Quirke was finally wandering down the alleys of the Hutong where he had sojourned in 2018 July only to find that the hotel was closed They had agreed to return to a vegan restaurant they had once been to for Zhi Ma Tang Bing, a delicious pancake style desert filled with sesame paste and burnt sugar, and they were looking forward to eating the main dishes. After a lazy morning where he had started to watch the amazing TV series by Ridley Scott, ‘Raised by Wolves’, they set off for the restaurant. It was quite a long trek and their expectations were high. Experience of course should have told him not to expect too much and true to form, disappointment was writ large and across the limited dishes they tried more than 2 dishes in the order were tasteless and not even the order of Zhi Ma Tang Bing could lure them back. They were close to the area where Nicholas had stayed in 2018 and he was keen, now the Hutongs had reopened, to revisit the streets and cafe’s he had been familiar with. He could not recall the name of the actual street and this meant some aimless wandering as he tried to get his bearings. But when it transpired that he had meant Nanluoguxiang (South Gong and drum alley) progress was swift. It was a shame to see true hotel he had been in derelict but it was fun to see again the nearby theatre school, enjoy a delicious ‘Chatang’ desert and iced almond tea, drink tea in a cafe he had frequented, and look for the Empress Wanwrong’s, first wife of Puyi, the Last Emperor, birth place. This led them neatly to Shichahai and the Lotus Market where they encountered some early evening swimmers. It’s seemed a very long way from the empty and closed up streets he had seen when he first arrived and it was a positive sight to see such scenes of normality. They cycled to Ping’Anli to get a subway to the National Theatre of China where he would have the pleasure of seeing 3 of China’s top award winning actors, Ye Li, Yu He, and Qing Yang perform Michael Frayan’s ‘Copenhagen’. In Chinese. He had some reservations about enduring over 90 minutes of Chinese with no translation, but as he was very familiar with the themes, the plot and the construction, he felt he could handle seeing this very wordy and intense play and enjoy watching China’s best at work. He really enjoyed the production and watching the actors work he detected a more histrionic level of performance than he might expect in a western performance with the current trend for pauses and understatement, but he loved the fluidity of movement and the passion with which the work was attacked. Copenhagen had been part of the National Theatre of China’s repertoire since 2003 and apparently, COVID 19 excepted, played 3 times a week. It was fascinating to see that like The Moscow Arts Theatre, productions were kept running in repertoire for decades. The director, Xiaoying Wang, bookended the performance with a talk which again is a usual practice. Since he had attended the Museum of the People’s Theatre of Beijing he had wanted to see a performance there and he was determined that as soon as it was possible he would get a ticket. Seeing theatre always excited him and he could not stop talking as they cycled home. It was late by the time they got in and therefore no film, he was drowsy and despite the sore knee he slept fitfully.

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