Theatre review – Fight the Landlord / Do Di Zhu
Beijing’s Square Moon Theatre once again team with director Gavin Quinn of Ireland’s Pan Pan Theatre, the first time being back in 2006 for an adaptation of John Millington Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, in which the team set a 1907 Irish classic in a contemporary Chinese hairdressers/brothel. The setting for Fight The Landlord is no less peculiar; the Carriageworks itself being an impressive building was only enhanced by designers’ Aedin Cosgrove and Gao Yiguang with hundreds of multi-coloured fairy lights and a curious, immersive forest of plastic bamboo.
At the centre of this shiny, molded jungle we were greeted by a large, circular poker table and encouraged to join three actors who were shuffling their playing cards whilst wearing giant panda suits. Eight brave audience members joined these creatures at the table and began shuffling their own cards, whilst the rest of the audience sat watching, in-the-round on what were, unfortunately, rather uncomfortable chairs. It was charming to see this ‘inner sanctum audience’ join in the action, their clear unease, unsure smiles and giggles whilst pandas pushed through them or danced on the table were pleasing to watch and set a mischievous tone.
What followed was a candid game of Dou Di Zhu (Flight the Landlord) a popular Chinese card game in which a designated ‘landlord’ competes against two ‘tenants’. Whilst the three actors played the game their conversations raced through different topics and characters. We met lazy workers too tired from life even to close their eyes, too tired to fall asleep, too tired to dream. We met a particularly funny mother who insisted on accompanying her son on his arranged date; continually insulting this poor girl whilst at once cajoling and comforting her only boy. Audience members were invited to view new apartment brochures by pushy estate agents. We were told how handsome our new homes would be or what a good investment opportunity it was whilst also being threatened that the deal would not last long and the the cost would only increase. Fears about starting a family before you grew too old, the need for wealth and success, raising house prices and fewer jobs were eloquently demonstrated by the actors; who spoke only Mandarin. English speaking audience members could follow the action word-for-word via three small screens displaying subtitles.
From what I saw (trying desperately to watch the action whilst keeping up with the subtitles) the actors performed fiercely as if they had been through or were still going through the struggles faced by their characters. However, the real star for me, was the script. Having experienced a lot of the play much like reading a book the words themselves took on a greater resonance; “Why is it so hard to earn a bowl of rice?”, Have I become “too tired to dream”? Will I become one of the Top Ten Losers who were Child Stars? (ok that last one doesn’t really apply, but certainly gained a laugh from the audience). The script, written by Sun Yue demonstrated exactly how hard it is to keep your own identity in a world where you must sell everything in order to survive.
What was intended was a frank discussion about issues affecting the younger generation of China. What was presented was a performance that could easily be applied internationally to any young person. An almost comforting message of kinship from a country in which the individual is so often forgotten about by the western world.
We all want success, and fear we are judged on our perceived failures. We’re all trying to earn our bowl of rice, and fighting not to lose ourselves in the process.
WRITER Sue Yue
DIRECTOR Gavin Quinn
DESIGNERS Aedin Cosgrove, Gao Yiguang PRODUCER Zhaohui Wang
ACTORS Sue Yue, Wang Jinglei, Zhu Yutong STAGE MANAGER Lian Jun
Fight the Landlord had a season at Carriageworks, 2-5 October, 2013