Classic Chinese play wows London audience

The Handan Dream, a classic Chinese play by one of China's most revered playwrights, Tang Xianzu of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), was staged at Hackney Empire in London from Jan 25 to 27. It offered locals an intriguing story about a man who dreams an entire life only to wake up in the inn where his dream began.

The production, by the Guangzhou Dramatic Arts Center, featured English surtitles and strikingly colorful costumes. The Handan Dream has been performed at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing, and has toured internationally, and the performances at Hackney Empire marked the beginning of 2018 Guangzhou Cultural Week, a wide range of cultural activities to be held in Europe, Oceania and Latin America.


Lu Sheng, the protagonist in the opera, was played by famous Chinese actress Li He. (Photo/

Tang Xianzu is known as China's Shakespeare. The Handan Dream is one of his most well-known plays, as is the Peony Pavilion. In the story, dejected protagonist Lu Sheng has tried and failed the imperial exam three times. On his way home, Lu stops at an inn, but while waiting to be served his food he falls into a deep sleep in which he dreams of an entire well-spent life. He studies for exams, comes first in the imperial examination, falls in love, gets married and has children, is condemned to death, is cleared of all charges, and slowly grows old. Just as his food is about to be served, the young man wakes and realizes it was nothing but a dream.

The show was directed by famous Chinese director Wang Xiaodi and the costumes were designed by Li Ruiding, who was selected as one of the lead costume designers for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.


The Handan Dream depicts Lu's dreams of a well-spent life. (Photo/  

It was a great performance and encouraged its viewers to learn more about Tang Xianzu and the things happened in China in that era, according to an audience member who claimed to have felt a cross-cultural impact after watching the play.

Another audience member spoke highly of the plot and production of the play, saying the dramatic design, stagecraft and traditional Chinese artistic elements in the play offered him a brand-new experience.

Since its inception in 2016, the Guangzhou Culture Week has brought distinctive Cantonese culture and arts including Cantonese Opera, Guangdong puppet shows and Lingnan acrobatics to more than one million overseas audiences around the world.




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