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Hamlet rules Middle Kingdom

Updated: 2009-02-27 10:58
By Chen Jie (China Daily)

Hamlet rules Middle Kingdom

The most famous line in Shakespeare - "to be or not to be, that is the question" - will be heard on the Beijing stage once again.

Beijing People's Art Theater (BPAT) invited renowned Japanese director Asari Keita to revive Shakespeare's classic in October and the second run will soon be on at the National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA).

It has become trendy to stage avant-garde versions of Shakespeare's plays but Keita says his Hamlet proudly "respects the bard's original work".

"This Hamlet is faithful to Shakespeare's original characteristics, every line, every detail on stage. People all over the world are today offering different interpretations of Shakespeare - many experiment with destructive approaches, avant-garde styles - but this is a 'real' Hamlet," says actress Chen Xiaoyi, who played Ophelia in BPAT's 1994 production of Hamlet.

Drama critic Tao Zi adds: "Given the play's dramatic structure and depth of characterization, Hamlet can be analyzed, interpreted and argued about from many perspectives. Keita is good at telling story. His Hamlet is a good choice for the ordinary audience, you would not worry how deep Shakespeare's work is.

"The work also showcases the Shiki Company - from the setting, costumes to the music, every detail is exquisite."

Wang Ban, BPAT's leading actor, has the title role. Keita rates Wang among the top three Hamlets of all those he has directed. "He demands the stage and stirs your soul," says the veteran director. "Whether you are in Beijing, London or New York, he is one of the best Hamlets."

The tall, handsome Wang is arguably the best choice of Hamlet among all of BPAT's actors but says it is the hardest role he has ever played.

"Hamlet is often perceived as a philosophical character, expounding ideas that are now described as relativist, existentialist and skeptical," says Wang.

"It is not the first time I have played Hamlet. In 1991 when I graduated from the Central Academy of Drama, I played the role with my classmates. But now, 17 years later, I am older and understand the struggling prince better."

The production features Cheng Lisha as Ophelia, Shi Lanya as Hamlet's mother and Xu Ao as Hamlet's uncle Claudius, who murders his brother, the King.

7:30 pm, March 11-15

West to Tian'anmen Square