01 April at 8pm | 02 April at 7pm & 9pm
The Flying Nun at Brand X
True love? Or duty to family?
An unlikely literary phenomenon – a Chinese play written in English by Hsiung Shi-I. This new production flips tradition on its head – a fusion of theatre of East and West.
Playwright S. I. Hsiung
Director Tiffany Wong 黃寶珠
Dramaturg Liangyu Sun 孙靓钰
Composer Jolin Jiang 蒋钟毓
Production Designer Rachel Hui 許蓓欣
Lighting Designer Catherine Mai 麦子晟
Makeup Artist Bonnie Huang 黄晓悦
Producer Aaron Cornelius
Assistant Producer Susanna Pang
with Chloe Ho 何英瑋 , Mym Kwa 柯悲德, Enoch Li 李樂斌, Tim Lim 林敬虔, Susan Ling Young 楊成蘋 & Steve Lu 陆俊杰
Special thanks to Sifu Josh Smith from Australian Jow Ga Kung Fu Academy, Sydney University Dramatic Society, Genesian Theatre, New Theatre, Zoe Crawford, Adam Yoon, Nick Thompson.
“Before the play had started, a slideshow above the stage displayed a dozen photos from previous productions of Lady Precious Stream throughout the 20th century including the program from the last known performance in Australia in 1961. Seeing cast after cast of white actors done up in traditional Chinese clothing and makeup, proudly posing with their fans and swords, was an immediate introduction to the overlapping cultures involved in this production, considering the play’s origins as an English script written by a Chinese immigrant in London now recontextualised for a contemporary Australian audience by Asian Australian artists. Director Tiffany Wong, influenced by Hsiung’s interest in Shakespeare, reimagined the classic original text by injecting elements of Peking Opera and jazz and re-setting the action with 1930s Western costuming. The fusion of influences and cultures worked to generate a globalised atmosphere that centred no particular nation without diluting the impact of each chosen influence. There was an air of deliberate consideration and curation to the reimagining which was a refreshing approach to making contemporary a classic text with complex cultural origins.” – Night Writes
“It works beautifully on two levels: working within the parameters of the charming form of orientalism, and operating as a gentle parody of the reductionism that all orientalism tempts us into if we read it as realism.
What’s so marvellous about this production by director Tiffany Wong and her brilliant cast is its exuberant lightness.
The Flying Nun by Brand X provides an invaluable space for artists to experiment, and Wong uses the opportunity magnificently. Her playful mixing of modern tech and more traditional elements of movement and sound create an art work that is gloriously conscious of its status as an artefact. Who needs reality; this is magic.” – Paul Gilchrist (Veronica Kaye), Theatre Reds
“Directed by Tiffany Wong, Lady Precious Stream brings back to life a Chinese play written in English by Hsiung Shi-I in the 1930s which was a raging success in London at the time. This long-forgotten work has been resurrected by Wong and the cast and crew into a refreshing adaptation, with Wong challenging that if we can take classical Western theatre such as Shakespeare and flip it on its head using modern conventions, why can’t we do the same with Chinese theatre?
Wong’s adaptation of Lady Precious Stream also draws on the style of Peking Opera, which combines music, vocal performance, mime, dance and acrobatics. This brought flavour and movement to the piece, helping bring life into the more formal and at times stilted nature of the script and providing ample opportunity for comedy which never missed a beat. The use of simple props and off-stage cameras for scenes in two locations were clever devices for helping keep the focus on the energy and joyful performances of the actors on stage.” – Anja Bless, Theatre Travels
What has been your favourite part of rehearsals and collaborating with this large team?
Tim – Realising that there are so many Asian Australian theatre makers out there that we haven‘t had the opportunity to see on stage and off stage.
Mym – Learning about Peking Opera and exploring the theatrical conventions and history of the art form.
What excites you about bringing an old play to new audiences, and what will surprise audiences that are already familiar with the play?
Enoch – I’m studying at drama school and we’re learning about Brecht, Chekhov, the classics. So it’s new and exciting to venture into non-Western theatre traditions, and bring those styles, history and culture to new audiences.
Tiffany – I’m excited by our experimentation, our blending of dramatic styles. We’re investigating the line between cultural appropriation and appreciation with this production.
Rachel – Mostly the nostalgic value. I grew up watching a lot of Cantonese opera with grandpa. It’s nice to be involved with a production that’s close to heart, familiar. A lot of other theatre productions tend to be Shakespeare and other Western classics, and I’m not familiar with a lot of them, so this is more comfortable.
Steve – Exploring Chinese history and traditions, and digesting something that is familiar to audiences plot wise, but so rich in how it’s communicated. It’s a simple story that isn’t trying to make you think about some deeper message, but just to have fun. It’s very different to your Chekhovs, but not shallow – trying to make you laugh, but in a complicated way.
Susan – It is great to explore Asian theatre archetypes and different styles of movement. It’s a very different kind of physicality. I’m starting to appreciate more about Asian storytelling as well. I had no idea that any Chinese person had taken a Chinese story like this and made it into a play, in English in the 1930s, or that it was such a big hit. It shows that there has historically been success for Asian stories.
We’re not actually taught about that, but it’s something that we can be proud of. We’re not just aspiring to create something from the ground up – someone has already done it before us. Susanna – The original production in London was put on by white actors playing Chinese roles. I think it’s interesting for us to recontextualise the work in contemporary Australia, with an all-Asian team.
Liangyu – It’s interesting how pioneers often don’t think of themselves as pioneers. Hsiung (the playwright) didn’t set out to specifically bring this traditional history to Western audiences, but it ended up being a hugely successful and groundbreaking work at that time.
Adapting work is a difficult thing to approach, as well as choosing the right time to resurface an older work. What felt right about bringing this show to audiences in 2022?
Susan – The cultural landscape is changing, and more people are keen to see all kinds of faces in anything. We now have much more aware audiences who want to see all types of storytelling, diverse faces, they want to get a better feel of the broadness that’s out there, not just the same things getting rehashed.
Tiffany – There’s so much contemporary Asian Australian work coming out, so it got me thinking, are they following the ancestry/genealogy of Australian work, or Asian work? Simply because, I feel like a lot of 20th century Asian work has been lost in our Western theatrical canon. So is there a missing link between these older works, and the contemporary work that’s being performed on our stages?
What have been some of the challenges in getting this work ready for an audience?
Tiffany – The biggest challenge has been learning a new theatrical style, and realising not everyone has the same cultural vocabulary. We’ve all been raised in different diasporas, so a lot of the traditional cultural elements in the play are important to us for different reasons, ranging from discovering a new style, a gesture or a bit of history.
“We don’t see any Asian work from that period – or from any other time in the 20th Century, really. There’s a lot of Asian work being made now, but plays like this are the predecessors.”
“What do the Asian plays of periods other than our own look like?”
“I sometimes wonder if the idea of diversity we’re developing here now had come about 100 years ago, what kind of works would we have seen? We know the old American and British plays but what do the Asian plays of periods other than our own look like? That’s the theatrical canon I want to interrogate.“Tiffany Wong (for Audrey Journal)