Festival Theatre, Fri Sep 5
It’s a nice touch to begin by projecting quirky translations of the Qing Dynasty fable upon which this show is based for those not familiar it: a tale of the love between a man and a fox-fairy. But in truth it mattered not. There were sufficient universal symbols to tell the audience that this is a tale of love, good and evil, and that fantasy world where humans and spirits interact. And it would be perfectly possible to sit back, know nothing of the narrative unfolding before you, take in the enchantment that the Shandong Acrobatic Troupe offer, and be amazed. It is above all a superb visual spectacle. Like watching a painting being created, and refined, then reworked, and begun all over again – with rich colour and mood and texture and depth.
But the use of all three dimensions of the entire stage area also stretches notions of time and space as people lurch violently into the air or float motionless on barely visible ropes high above the stage like chrysalis creatures awaiting rebirth, as the story continues below. The use of ropes to move characters from the stage floor (earth) to the roof (the spirit world) or points in between works marvellously as a device to show that the characters in this story are indelibly linked to an other world beyond earthly life. In other scenes earthly characters struggle to walk or get where they want to go as they are restrained by figures in the world above and reduced to puppets under supernatural control.
Then there are the skills of the young troupe members; juggling with feet, team juggling, acrobatic routines and gymnastics… brilliant entertainment. There were times however when I felt torn between wanting to applaud – as we were sometimes encouraged to do – and staying within the fantasy world of the narrative. I was in awe at the mastery of their skills, but those moments of applause broke a spell for me.
Among so many highlights one has to mention the delicious physical attraction between the grown scholar and his fox-fairy lover. The scene where the vivacious fox-fairy tries to distract the man scholar’s attention away from his books is just gorgeous. And having won his affection the loving relationship played out between them in a routine that combines graceful acrobatics and dance at times borders on innocent erotica, and is simply bewitching. Then, many years far into the future, the fox fairy’s attempts to restore life to her beloved by flinging herself at his limp and lifeless body are beautifully choreographed.
Dream Of The Ghost Story is a glorious combination of the skills and enthusiasm of this young troupe and a production that spares no expense in creating a world that will transport you to a place far away from the present. For 90 minutes I was in another world beyond my imagination – a world full of joy and fear of the unknown, a world full of dazzling colour and ominous darkness, a world of love and loss, but always in wonder at the richness of existence. And that feeling lingered long after the final curtain came down.
by Michael Coghlan
Dream Of The Ghost Story continues at Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, until Sat Sep 6.