The True Story of Ah Q (Physical Theatre)

Living a homeless existence in Wei Village during the late Qing Dynasty, the poor, fumbling Ah Q is faced day after day with his own short comings. His response? He claims ‘spiritual victories’ over his fellow villagers, convincing himself he is spiritually superior to his oppressors and pinning his hopes of a new destiny on the Revolution of 1911. He is well and truly the village idiot. This interpretation of the Xun Lu classic, presented by XieJin Film And TV Art College, interweaves a dollop of great acting, a pinch of sword dancing and a handful of intelligent physical theatre to produce a charming and slick production.

In just one hour the five member cast cover twenty eight scenes, a dizzying array of locations and a multitude of characters. This potentially confusing set up is handled well, though; the intelligent staging, courtesy of director Jianwei Tang, manages to carve a clear narrative through the hectic programme, so easy to follow that, despite the performance being in Mandarin, you need only a cursory glance at the English surtitles to keep track of the plot.

The staging ideas would be nothing, of course, without a sufficiently talented cast to carry them out, but that is no problem here. Tailiang Lv plays the hapless Ah Q with superb balance: portraying the foolishness of the character well, whilst ensuring his human qualities shine through, eliciting a mothering sympathy from the audience and guaranteeing their investment in the protagonist.

He is supported well by his fellow actors, who flick seamlessly between their many roles: one minute Chinese lion statue, the next a cheating gambler, each with distinctive physicalities and voices. Aside from being great individually, they work very well collectively – creating the ‘set’ with just their bodies, a few props and some marvellously effective sound-scaping. They coped well, too, with the limitations of the space; it was clearly designed for a much larger room: we lost a ceiling tile and a light after one particularly energetic scene – the cast didn’t blink an eye.

The XieJin College have produced a great piece of physical theatre in The True Story of Ah Q; it serves as a great introduction to a very different and distinctively non-western style of performance and a lovely way to bring a piece of important Chinese literature to life for a new audience

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Performances

The Blurb

The True Story of Ah Q takes us to revolutionary China, 1911 and shows us China’s real face, good and bad.

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