Written in 1936, “The Wilderness” is a key work of one of China’s most important 20th century playwrights, Cao Yu, who has been referred to as China’s Shakespeare. It tells a harrowing tale of love, murder, revenge and contrition.
The story is set in the barren countryside of northern China in the 1930s. A young man called Chou Hu (name means “avenging tiger)” escapes from a convict train after nearly 10 years of imprisonment for a crime he didn’t commit. The man who put him there, Jiao Yanwang, had killed his father by burying him alive in order to steal the family home, and had also sold Chou Hu’s sister into prostitution, as a result of which she died. When Chou Hu arrives in the village, however, he finds that Jiao Yanwang has died. He also finds that his childhood sweetheart, Jin Zi (name means “Goldie”), is married to his arch enemy’s son, Jiao Daxing.
Daxing and Chou Hu grew up together and were best friends. Daxiang is ignorant of his father’s crimes against Chou Hu and his family, and he is genuinely surprised and happy to see Chou Hu return.
But Chou Hu is obsessed with revenge. Although his enemy has died, he is determined to carry out his vengeance on his enemy’s surviving family members. Daxing naturally becomes Chou Hu’s target.
Knowing that Jin Zi is very unhappy in her marriage to Daxing and is being mistreated by Daxing’s blind mother, Chou Hu devises a plan to run away with Jin Zi after he has carried out his vengeance. Jin Zi is keen to leave the Jiao family, but finds the idea of killing Daxing unpalatable.
Though blind, Madam Jiao, Daxing’s mother and the domineering matriarch of the Jiao family, is watchful and cunning. Knowing full well what her late husband did, she suspects that Chou Hu has murderous plans for her family, and tries, without success, to persuade him into leaving with Jin Zi, promising money and freedom.
However, possessed by hatred and desire for vengeance, and spurred on by voices and apparitions of his dead father and sister, Chou Hu not only kills Daxing, but finds that Madam Jiao has inadvertently killed her own infant grandson (Daxing’s son by his previous wife) because the child happened to be asleep in Chou Hu’s bed when Madam Jiao deliberately struck the bed’s occupant with a heavy walking stick.
The taste of revenge soon turns sour. Madam Jiao dies of heartbreak, and as Chou Hu and Jin Zi make their escape into the wilderness to evade the law enforcement authorities pursuing them, Chou Hu, seeing no escape from the torments of his conscience, takes his own life, leaving Jin Zi to go on living and bear the child – his child – that she has told him she is carrying.
The production mixes art forms: speaking interspersed with the expressiveness of dance. A composer has created a specially commissioned score that combines traditional Chinese instruments with Western electronic music, complementing both the spirit of the original drama and its contemporary English staging.
The play will be performed in Chinese, by a non-professional cast who have trained extensively with acting, dance and music coaches.
The staging of this play represents a rare opportunity for an overseas audience to see a live performance of a great work of Chinese drama in the original language. Our research suggests this is the first time the play has been performed in Chinese anywhere in the UK. A comprehensive synopsis in English will be available to audience members explaining all the intricacies of the plot.
It has taken the best part of a year for this play to move from the initial concept to performance. All members of the cast and crew are unpaid, and ticket sales are intended only to cover the play’sproduction costs.
7.30pm Tuesday 12th December 2017
The Stoller Hall, Hunts Bank, Manchester M3 1DA.