For the first time in Australia and exclusive to Adelaide is Stan Lai’s massively popular Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land, an acclaimed play that has seen almost continuous performance since its debut in the 1980s, as well as a movie adaptation.
Taiwan-based Lai is a true heavyweight in Chinese theatre who can count his audience in the billions, and this work with Performance Workshop demonstrates why.
Based around two theatre groups who have accidentally booked the same rehearsal space, Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land is a set of stories within a story, and the complexity runs marvellously.
On the one hand is Secret Love, helmed by an over-invested director who never seems satisfied with his cast’s delivery of a nostalgic love story that transforms from sentimental melodrama to something really quite heart-rending.
On the other is Peach Blossom Land, a slapstick rendition of a classic Chinese fable in which a cuckolded fisherman travels to a mysterious land up-river, where white-robed inhabitants are comically connected to nature, have no sense of world history, and happen to look identical to his wife and her lover back home.
Above all this is the two theatre troupes who are actually rehearsing these stories, dealing with the double-booking, pushing one another – and one another’s sets – off the stage and jostling for space, the hilarious chaos revealing the stories’ shared themes of the passage of time, the loss of love, and a rather painful sense of helpless inevitability and the acceptance of one’s fate.
The terrific Taiwanese actors glide effortlessly between all the stories, switching characters, registers and eras with tremendous skill. The dialogue is often very funny and it translates well – although unfortunately for non-Chinese-speakers in this audience, the surtitles don’t always keep up. Playful Adelaide localisations are a fun touch, and it’s hard not to marvel at the intricate mechanics of the work.
Throughout the performance a confused and lonely woman wanders the stage in search of a lost love, subtly underscoring the delicate melancholy that lies just a scratch beneath all the hilarity.
OzAsia Festival, 9 November 2018, Dunstan Playhouse