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Harry Potter actress in RSC's China drama

By BO LEUNG | China Daily UK | Updated: 2017-03-10 19:40

A classical Chinese drama has been given a contemporary reimagining at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Harry Potter actress in RSC's China drama

Katie Leung stars in Snow in Midsummer which runs until March 25. 

Snow in Midsummer was adapted by playwright Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig. It is a drama about a girl named Dou Yi, who is sentenced to death for a crime she did not commit and the young widow vows that if she is innocent, snow will fall in midsummer and a catastrophic drought will strike.

Playing the role of Dou Yi is Harry Potter actress Katie Leung, along with a cast of predominantly Chinese and East Asian performers.

Cowhig, born in the United States to an Irish-American father and a mother from Taiwan, was raised in Philadelphia, Virginia, Okinawa, Taipei, and Beijing.

The playwright told China Daily why she decided to take on Guan Hanqing's classic tale.

"The original play, The Injustice of Dou E, is such an important work of literature that it doesn't just belong to China, it belongs to the whole world," she said. "The play is trying to teach us something about justice and the persistence of the human spirit. Some people might find this story quite dark, but I think it is actually a very optimistic story."

Cowhig added that a recent anti-corruption campaign and legal developments in rights for prisoners in China had inspired her choices in adapting this drama.

To add a contemporary twist to the play, Cowhig examined modern-day supernatural thrillers such as The Ring "where there is a much more focused detective story happening throughout the play, and a use of suspense to maintain audience attention".

She said: "I wanted to stay true to the spirit of the young widow Dou Yi and her quest for justice. But I also wanted to give myself the freedom to imagine what might have happened to Dou Yi if she was arrested and tried today, rather than in the Yuan dynasty."

She said: "These are things that a Western audience isn't very familiar with, so it was necessary to teach the audience the rules of the world in a way that wouldn't be as necessary for a Chinese audience."

Snow in Midsummer is the first production of the RSC's ongoing Chinese Classic Translator Project, a cultural exchange bringing Chinese classics to a modern Western audience.

Cowhig said: "Much of the European theater tradition is inspired by things that Bertolt Brecht borrowed from Chinese theater, so in fact there has been a very long history of the Chinese theater inspiring the Western theater, and I see this work as part of that river of tradition."

The play will run until March 25.


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