Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land
Written and directed by Stan Lai with improvisation from the cast. Stan Lai and Performance Workshop. Taiwan. Dunstan Playhouse. Adelaide Festival Centre. OzAsia Festival. November 9-10 2018.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
What a wonderfully clever and ingeniously structured play Stan Lai’s Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land is. With moving moments of poignant Naturalism, ribald slapstick and mistaken identity, snatches of Chinese circus and acrobatics, hilarious touches of classic Chinese theatre and sheer mayhem and madness Stan Lai’s reworked thirty year old classic is a triumph of colour, movement and fantastic storytelling.
We are cajoled into the mystery of expectation as the play opens with Jiang Bin Liu bidding a tender and painful farewell to Yun Zhi Fan (Chu Jr-ying) against an old world Shanghai backdrop. It is a moment of tenderness and love, played out at the end of the devastating war with Japan, when Yun is about to return to her home . It is a sorrowful parting with Jiang unable to return to his home, and forced to stay in Shanghai with a promise to write.
|Peach Blossom Land|
Suddenly, the director of the scene and members of the company enter to reveal that the actors are engaged in a memory play. To their surprise, another company invades the stage, ready to rehearse their contemporary farce Peach Blossom Land about a poor fisherman Lao Tao (Tang Tsung-Sheng), his wife Chun Hua (Yeh Yu-te, and the boss Master Yuan (Chu Chung-heng) Tao’s wife is having an adulterous affair with his boss, and he leaves to search for her in Peach Blossom Land, a mystical world of fantasy and illusion.What follows is a struggle by both companies to occupy the stage with hilarious results. In addition, a lone young woman (Lin Yu-Chou) wanders the stage in search of her lover, who never turned up to meet her. It is a recipe for utter confusion and madness, but Stan Lai and his Performance Workshop have created an immaculately staged production, tightly directed, played with absolute conviction and control and transporting an enthralled audience into an emotional whirlpool. We feel for the unfulfilled love of Yun and Jiang as she finally visits him at his hospital bed after a separation of almost forty years, only to learn that they have both been living in Taipei. We feel for Jiang’s long-suffering wife, whose true love and loyal devotion was ironically unappreciated by the pining Jiang.
On the other hand, the audience explodes into fits of laughter at the foolish antics of deceived Tao and the bawdy antics of his unfaithful wife and her lover. Through the pathos of Secret Love and the farcical shenanigans of Peach Blossom Land, backstage business carries on regardless with backdrops flying in and out, people stumbling onto a scene, stage bloopers interrupting the action of the scene and actors and crew caught up in the turmoil, much to the delight of the audience, many of whom appeared Chinese and could enjoy the performance without the need for the surtitles.
An astute and informed audience member might detect the derivation of much of the play, reaching back o the traditions of Peking Opera and Chinese legend. To the western eye, Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land is as fresh funny, touching and engaging as any contemporary western drama. The lazzi tradition of Commedia and the Naturalism of Stanislavski inform the spirit of this outstanding comedy-drama, a fitting highlight to bring the theatrical offerings of the OzAsia Festival to a triumphant close.