Capital Theatre

Nicholas Quirke was finally accomplishing a small ambition on 16 December 2020 that he had nursed since March 2018 when he had first sighted Beijing People’s Art Theatre based in the Capital Theatre.  Though it did not have the history of the Moscow Arts Theatre, and there was no Stanislavsky at its helm to revolutionise world drama, the theatre, founded in June 1952  by Cao Yu, took the MAT as its inspiration and had transformed performance in China. Through the 1960s, it was known primarily for staging the works of playwrights Guo Moruo, Lao She, who penned the theatres flagship production, ‘Teahose’  with its cast of 88, Cao Yu and Tian Han, though the theatre was notoriously closed during the cultural revolution. The play he was seeing that night was a revival of a 1997 play ‘The Antiques’, (Curio) by Zheng Tianwei. He did not leave the house till late afternoon, having spent the morning engaged in his usual Wednesday domestic chores including preparing lunch. When he did set off the temperature was minus 2, he had planned to take the subway part of the way, but it was an awkward location and so he stayed on the bike despite the freeze. He had stopped at APM mall for tea and enjoyed watching the customers and the staff in the neighbouring coffee shop. On his arrival at the theatre he discovered he had lost his ticket. This was very frustrating and he had to get Peng on the phone to help with the box office. He subsequently was led to his seat where he had a couple of Chinese ladies talking at him. It transpired they wanted to swap seats so they could sit next to each other. As it was for a better seat he agreed. He had prepared himself by reading the synopsis, and translating the notes in the programme but there was no way he could understand the subtleties of the text and what was being said and he had to content himself with the experience of being in the theatre and the visual treat that the production served up. The play started in the late Qing Dynasty 1902, focussing on an ongoing argument spanning 40 years between two antique dealers over the provenance of a pair of ancient Ding Ming urns to 1938 and was set in the antique district, the gardens of the protagonist and a brothel. It was a play about national identity and was deeply embedded in Chinese ancient, spiritual history. The costumes, sets and acting, particularly a diminutive Japanese officer, held his attention through the 2 hours and 45 minutes, even though there was not a fraction of the text that he could penetrate. By the time he left the temperature had dropped to Minus 6 degrees and there was no way he was going to cycle, preferring to walk for 20 minutes to Wangfujing Station. He did not get back till 11pm and after a very hot shower to warm him up he was ready for bed and a good nights sleep.

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