Red Poppies

Nicholas Quirke was celebrating World Theatre Day on 28 March 2021 with of course, a visit to the theatre. In fact, the pollution count was horrendously high and spending the majority of his day sitting in the dark was the ideal way to stay out of the grey poisoned air. The morning was taken up with travelling across Beijing to the National Film Museum and seeing ‘Godzilla Vs Kong in their impressive IMAX cinema which was the perfect medium to see the great effects which, were a lot of fun. The sub plot featuring Millie Bobbie Brown though was dire and at times made him crawl with embarrassment. Peng found a nearby mall with a restaurant which promised vegan food but only had salad on offer. They ate instead at ‘Element fresh’ and for the first time in over a year he had Falafel. The rest of the afternoon was spent sheltering from the air in the local Teasure before making their way south to Tianqiao and the performing arts centre. They had been to the old theatre next door which was the home of the National Ballet Company but this was the first time he had been to the new centre, and also the first time that he had been to the subway station there which he was delighted to see was packed with murals and scenes of local life from the Qing Dynasty and the early republic. Tianqiao had been and still was a place of entertainment and the area had been full of entertainers. They were there to see ‘Red Poppies’ or as should be translated . It was based on an award winning novel by Tibetan author Alai. It is a fictional account of the destruction of the local chieftain system through opium production and trade vividly pictures a history that is both local and global. Spanning the decade or so before the victory of the communist revolution in 1949, the story details a fascinating local history set in the borderland along the Sino-Tibetan ethnic corridor, known today as the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan Province. In the beginning of the story, no one uses opium except the Chinese wife of Chief Maichi, the mother of the “idiot” who is the novel’s principal narrator and protagonist. Soon enough, however, opium spreads like wild fire, transforming the local economy from traditional subsistence farming into one of commodity exchange and was introduced to the region by a KMT (Guomindang) official. It was an epic staging, and looked beautiful on every level. Peng was astonished by the depiction of sex and talking about it, sexual awakening is one of the themes, which is not done in Chinese theatre, making the piece groundbreaking and controversial. At three and half hours, this colourful drama was ambitious and Herculean and the production would stay with him for a long time. He had prepared well and understood the story and the most of the time he was fully conversant with what was happening. They cycled home and did not get in till gone midnight and as he was teaching in the morning nicholas went straight to be and sleep the moment he got in.

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