Language no barrier to Chinese director's cross-cultural vision

Language no barrier to Chinese director's cross-cultural vision

Language no barrier to Chinese director's cross-cultural vision

Updated 15 July 2014, 13:22 AEST

One of China’s most avant-garde theatre directors is breaking down the barriers of language and culture with his version of a German play, acted by an all-Australian cast.

Meng Jinghui is in Melbourne to direct playwright Bertolt Brecht’s classic tale 'The Good Person of Szechuan.'

Meng is no stranger to Australian audiences; in 2011, he brought his acclaimed work 'Rhinoceros in Love' to festivals in Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane. This time he’s working with Australian actors in a co-production between Australia’s Malthouse Theatre and The National Theatre of China.

“A Chinese director directing a German play in English in Australia is something quite international,” he says. “First you need to have a global vision. And the location is Szechuan, an imaginary place in Brecht’s mind. In this place, a common humanity exists which leads to questions all people care about.”

Meng explains that in Brecht's play several gods come to Earth seeking a 'good person' who will offer them shelter for the night, but they find only dishonesty and selfishness. "Finally they find one good person," he says. "But she is a complicated character, neither good or bad. What I try to do is to blur the definition of ‘good person’ and ‘bad person’ in the current society.”

Rehearsals have already proven interesting for the director and actors, who speak different languages and come from different cultures, but share a passion for the stage.

“The biggest challenge is the (Australian) actors still having doubts about a director who’s from China and sort of famous in China,” Meng says.

My communication with these actors benefits from misunderstanding.

“For example, we need a lot of work of translation to communicate. Sometimes the actors will ask me many questions directly, every time I will reply: ‘yes.’ It’s really not necessary to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ So I pretend I understood them totally. Usually they talk a lot on some quite profound topics, such as the way of artistic expression, rhythm etc. And I’ll say to them, ‘You are absolutely right. Just do it.’”

Moira Finucan plays the lead role in “the Good Person of Szechuan.”  Known as the burlesque queen of Melbourne, she was once an environmental scientist. Now a seasoned performer, Moira is thrilled to be involved in the production.

“Meng is the first Chinese director that I’ve worked with,” she says. “And it’s really exciting. His vision is very bold, very adventurous and also very collaborative. He’s really interested in what the artists before him have to offer.”

Moira Finucan plays the lead in the Malthouse production: The Good Person of Szechuan Image courtesy Malthouse Theatre
Moira Finucan plays the lead in the Malthouse production: The Good Person of Szechuan (Image courtesy Malthouse Theatre)

To Moira, working with Meng is “like going into a kitchen with a cook you admire but don’t know at all.”

“Meng has brought a huge number of ingredients, and I have brought a huge number of ingredients. He’s looked everything I’ve had to offer, and I’ve put lots of offers on the table. And then sometimes he goes ‘no, that’s not what I want.’ And I have been happy to trust that,” she says.

The Australian production of “The Good Person of Szechuan” will also tour China in October, heading to both the Shanghai International Arts Festival and the Beijing International Theatre Festival.