Thunderstorm PREVIEW

Thunderstorm PREVIEW

In this blog, we underline the most intriguing aspects of 'Thunderstorm', along with exclusive interviews featuring the show's talented cast and crew.

Hailed as one of the most influential tragedies in the history of modern Chinese theatre, Thunderstorm has undergone countless adaptations from stage to screen throughout its 90-year history, showcasing its enduring allure and depth. This time, BREAD's adaptation and production aim to deliver a poem of love and desire, spotlighting new visual imagery and digital installations, as well as creative use of classical Chinese instruments such as pipa and drums. 

What are the key themes of Thunderstorm?

Questioning the meaning of life: “Sometimes things turn out in a way you’d never imagined. This thing called the will of heaven - pretty weird. What’s happened today has made me suddenly realize just how risky, how absurd life can be.” Cao Yu's play explores the absurdity and unpredictability of life, as reflected in characters' reactions and reflections on the "will of heaven." Despite facing repression, the characters strive for freedom and dignity, navigating intense emotional conflicts within oppressive societal and familial frameworks. 

The universal humanity: Thunderstorm delves deep into universal themes like moral dilemmas, desire and self-control, sacrifice and self-preservation, vengeance and forgiveness, loneliness and disconnection, redemption and degradation. These themes influence character growth and plot progression, making Thunderstorm a classic renowned for its complexity of human nature and societal moral issues.

The helplessness and deep loneliness of individuals in a ruthless world: Set in Chinese society around 1925, this play depicts the tragedy of a bourgeois family with strong feudalist leaning, symbolizing a world characterized by rigid societal and familial structures. Within this overwhelming framework, individuals find themselves extremely powerless, insignificant and self-contradictory. It leads to an isolation of individuals from deep and authentic connections with family, friends and even love. In other words, a sense of deep loneliness pervades everyone involved, and the wheel of fate devours all desires and efforts.

Why should you come to see Thunderstorm?

A bold experimental attempt, an impressionistic approach of expression: In this play, we will go beyond traditional ways of expression and highlight innovative sentimental imagery and digital installations. Visually, motifs such as fish and water, along with live projection and digital images, will constitute a wonderful visual feast. Sonically, we will use classical Chinese instruments such as the pipa, drums, guzheng, erhu, and bamboo flute, together with the sounds of water, rain, and thunder to shape the emotional rhythm. Compared to previous adaptations, our production underlines a lonely feeling caused by the helplessness of individuals against the ruthless fate. To address this, we will use descending veils, silhouettes, bunches of flowers, which will leave behind the realistic presentation characterized by other adaptations.

An exhilarating cross-cultural experience: Given its story background, Thunderstorm offers a unique opportunity to reimagine the aesthetics, historical intricacies, and individual experiences during societal shift and cultural transformation of 1920s China. It will also be a great chance to explore the universal themes of love, betrayal, and redemption that transcend geographical boundaries.

Support cultural diversity and inclusion in the community: Recognizing the under-representation of East Asian stories in Cambridge theatre, our endeavor to bring this Chinese classic back to the stage is driven by our commitment to enhancing equity and inclusion within the Cambridge community, with the aim of resonating with audiences far and wide. Now, we want to expand our outreach efforts to welcoming new audiences to the theatre. Please find the show information below.

Q&A with the Crew

Q: It’s so exciting to know you’ve built up a Chinese instrument band! Could you share your creative ideas, especially regarding the integration of traditional instruments like the pipa with electronic sound effects?

Jensen Koh (sound designer): Many aspects of our world are not communicated the best with words, but through sound, light etc! For the play, the sound hopefully helps to add tension and bring the audiences into the inner thoughts and social structures that the characters grapple with. Hopefully the play will introduce audiences from all backgrounds to Chinese instruments. In this aspect, theatre can be really inclusive and fun to explore different cultures so I hope everyone will respond with an open mind (and ear)!

Mixing the traditional and modern aspects of music was something really crucial, especially given the director’s vision for the play to be more abstract and unconventional. I’m still learning as it goes but it boils down to curating a varied mix of sounds and exploring how they interact as a soundscape. In particular, I took a really ‘rojak’ approach: picking elements of everything and mixing them together, but some sounds like rain are also pretty universal. 

Q&A with casts

Thunderstorm’s depth emerges from its intricate web of character relationships - two families, eight characters, and thirty years of struggles. As our actress Erin Tan (as Lu Shiping) insightfully highlights, the cyclical nature of tragedy is at the core of Thunderstorm. The mistakes of the parents are the mistakes of the children; the cycle repeats itself, and Sifeng is caught in the same trap of destiny that Shiping was caught in thirty years ago. How do our cast members interpret and embody these complex roles? Find out in the following Q&A!

Q: How do you understand the character of Lu Shiping and her tragic fate?

Erin Tan (as Lu Shiping): Shiping is a very complex character. She wears many faces: a mother, a wife, a lover thrown over, a lower-class citizen, and above all a woman who has endured great tragedy yet still has the tremendous strength to go on living. In this way she is one of the most resilient characters in the play. Her quiet strength and belief in herself is what has kept her alive all these years even as her life has been steeped in misery. There are many conflicting forces that motivate her actions, but I feel that at the base of it all she is a character driven very much by love - at first, by her desperate love for Puyuan, then her motherly love for her children. It is from these forms of love that she draws the strength and conviction to make decisions such as to have Puyuan’s children, or work herself to the bone to support her family, or take Sifeng away with her. These aspects all make her such an interesting and fun character to play! 

Q: How do you reveal the complex position of Lu Gui in his family and society by playing the role of Lu Gui?

Lingquan Kong (as Lu Gui): Lu Gui is an iconic figure reflecting the conflict between patriarchy and loyalty. As a servant at Zhou’s house, he is humble and knows exactly his position in the house. Yet patriarchy wins at times, that is why he speaks to Fanyi in a rather impolite and dominant way. As a father and husband in his own family, he shows little respect towards his wife and his daughter. He wants to show the “father power” to Dahai, but Dahai's more modern opinions and physical strength often place him in the dominant position during arguments. In other words, he has those “Ken” moments, especially at home, those sly-ish times blackmailing or mocking Fanyi and Sifeng, and times when he’s fawning upon his masters. 

Follow the show's Instagram @thunderstormadc to unlock more information!

Tue 14 - Sat 18 May 2024
ADC Theatre

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