Taiwanese and Japanese Dramatists Collaborate to Push Theatrical Boundaries


2018 / April

Cathy Teng /photos courtesy of Chuang Kung-ju /tr. by Jonathan Barnard

What happens when George Orwell’s novel 1984, a work of political allegory and satire, meets the play Three Sisters by Russian realist writer Anton Chekhov?

At the end of 2017, Taiwan’s Shakespeare’s Wild Sisters Group and Japan’s Dai­nana­gekijo theater company endeavored to find the answer to that question when they staged their Note Exchange Vol. 2: 1984. The script was adapted by SWSG’s Wang Chia-ming and Dai­nana­gekijo’s Kou­hei Na­rumi, who together created a fable for the Internet age while exploring the possibilities for Taiwanese‡Japanese collaboration in the realm of theater.

“Adding Orwell’s 1984 to Chekhov’s Three Sisters was a frighteningly difficult idea.” Wang Chia-ming repeats this for emphasis.

1984 + Three Sisters

The political novel 1984 is a satire of totalitarianism. Most of the book is based around the ruminations of its protagonist Winston Smith, who is determined to resist the control of Big Brother. Hence it conveys a personal point of view. Three Sisters, on the other hand, is a script that portrays the fortunes of three sisters and thus offers a collective narrative. Chekhov uses lines of dialogue to detail interpersonal relations, realistically portraying the sisters’ way of life. The themes and linguistic styles of the two works are completely different, explains Wang.

After considering various possibilities for combining the works, Wang ended up deciding on keeping the basic framework of Three Sisters while introducing the monitoring of 1984 into their lives, with the collective of the family now becoming the source of the surveillance. That prompts Wang to raise the question: “When the monitoring comes from those with whom you are most intimate, what path will a family go down?”

Morality and intimacy become sources of control, with family members exercising pervasive—if inadvertent—monitoring of each other via their expressions of discouragement or concern. The three sisters’ older brother Winston is overly suspicious that large corporations are constantly monitoring people. Winston’s friends and relatives are always urging him not to worry so much and to try to fit in socially. Eventually he gets sent to Room 101 (the place in 1984 where thought transformation is practiced) and undergoes brainwashing. The youngest sister, Irena, starts out as an innocent and romantic girl, but she ends up disapproving of those who are different from her, and she takes up arms to enforce her own sense of righteousness, shooting all her family members.

Cultural and historical context

Apart from commenting on the ubiquity of tracking and surveillance in the networked age, in the play the two directors make intertextual allusions to contemporary society. 

Wang chose to set the play in a period of anarchy following a nuclear war, when the world has fallen under the control of just three major corporations: America’s Apple Shell, Asia’s GooBrother, and Africa’s Deep Monsando. All information and knowledge comes from the Internet, and leisure activities are also provided by these companies. On the surface, the world seems convenient and free.

In Wang’s script, Kou­hei Na­rumi saw a warning about how diversity was giving way to uniformity. And once a society begins to move against plurality and difference, signs of its breakdown are sure to follow.

For the production, Na­rumi designed a round stage to highlight the sense of omnipresent snooping and surveillance. All the actors wear similarly styled black clothing, symbolizing the control that large corporations have over them. Their appearances are uniform, with none showing any individual style.

Most of the lines uttered on stage aren’t full of great meaning or purpose. Sometimes characters mumble to themselves. At other times they speak—conveying no particular meaning—to listeners who don’t seem to care much either. Such utterances seem strangely familiar, and suddenly the audience realize that the director is using the blather to convey the nuances of the characters’ lives, as well as highlighting the ubiquitous monitoring inherent in inter­personal relations.

Collaborative challenges

The play is the fruit of a second year of cooperation and exchange between Taiwan’s Shakespeare’s Wild Sisters Group and Japan’s Dai­nana­gekijo.

Established in 1995, SWSG is one of Taiwan’s senior theater companies, and Wang Chia-ming is known as the enfant terrible of Taiwan’s theater scene. Kou­hei Na­rumi had seen productions of Richard III and Zodiac that Wang had directed. “When you watch plays directed by Wang Chia-ming, you can tell that this director has a lot of crazy ideas,” he says, “but he is also adept at beauti­fully realizing his visions by harnessing the power of the entire company.”

Dainanagekijo was founded by Na­rumi in Japan’s Mie Prefecture. It combines the techniques and training of traditional Noh theater and Ka­buki with those of European dramatic arts, offering a new direction for Japanese theater. “Visually, Na­rumi’s works build on interesting literary or philosophical foundations,” says Wang.

“A sense of paranoia pervades the works of both,” notes the producer Yu­kio ­Nitta, “so their collaborations are sure be pretty strange.” At ­Nitta’s recommendation, the two theater groups launched a three-year plan for collaborations.

Beginning in 2016, the companies exchanged one person each, with Wang and Na­rumi separately ­leading contemporary stage adaptations of Notes from the Underground and Crime and Punishment. For 2017 the collaboration brought them to work together on Note Exchange Vol. 2: 1984. The production features a mix of Japanese and Chinese, which posed huge challenges for the actors. The two directors likewise cited language as the most difficult aspect of their work together.

Cross-cultural collision and dialogue

“The language gap caused the biggest problems,” said Wang in a post-performance seminar. “That’s because language is more than just language: it also under­pins culture and dramatic timing. Yet I believe that these problems are actually a source of interest…. Since we couldn’t communicate through language, we were forced to focus more on examining what exactly communication is.”

“Taiwan’s actors are more emotionally explicit,” Na­rumi observes. “On the other hand, when Japanese actors process emotions, they may stir huge waves within, but they are more constrained in their expression. I feel that this is one big difference.” 

Consequently, when Wang Chia-ming writes scripts, he tries to arrange the actors in different combinations that highlight these disparities. “It creates different rhythms and chemistry…. There truly are differences…. The key thing is to make use of them.”

It has fostered more than just on-stage chemistry, notes Yu­kio ­Nitta, who also handled translation for the production: The early stages of rehearsals required a lot of translation for the two groups to understand each other. But by half way through the preparations, Nitta would only need to get through the first sentence of an explanation before Na­rumi would demonstrate with his expression that he understood without any need for further translation. The actors also shared a kind of tacit understanding communicated through their bodies, emotions and glances. This aspect of transnational cooperation is something that Nitta finds particularly interesting.

The exchange between the companies has entered its third year in 2018. Wang and Na­rumi plan on producing a stage adaptation of Café Lumière, Hou ­Hsiao-­hsien’s homage to the work of the iconic Japanese film director Ya­su­jiro Ozu.

Narumi emphasizes the need to think hard about how best to leverage the experience and mutual under­standing gained from the past two years of col­labora­tion to tackle the challenges of developing entirely new methods for the third year. Scratching his head at Na­rumi’s side, Wang blurts out, “Our biggest challenge right now is that we still don’t know what the heck we’re doing!” He then bursts into laughter.   

Hearing the two directors’ reflections made me recall something else Na­rumi had said to me: “­Theater is the best medium for revealing differences—which is to say that heterogeneity makes theater more inter­esting, because the medium absorbs differences to become more fun. That is the most fascinating aspect of col­labora­tions.” The comment only makes me more eagerly await the fruits of this third year of Taiwanese‡­Japanese collaboration, which is sure to produce a harvest ever weirder and more marvelous.                    

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王嘉明把故事背景設定在世界剛經歷一場核戰後的無政府狀態,各項資源重新分配,由三大企業:美洲的Apple Shell 會社、亞洲的GooBrother會社、非洲的Deep Monsando會社(暗指蘋果公司、Google、基因改造公司孟山都)所壟斷,一切的資訊與知識來自網路共享,娛樂和休閒也由這些大企業提供,世界「看似」便利且自由。




















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文・鄧慧純 写真・莊坤儒 翻訳・山口 雪菜


2017年末、台湾の「Shakespeare's Wild Sisters Group」(以下、SWSGと略)と日本の「第七劇場」による共同プロジェクト『1984,三人姉妹の日々』が台湾と日本で上演された。SWSGの王嘉明の翻案、第七劇場の鳴海康平の演出で、ネット世代の現代の物語として描かれ、舞台における台湾と日本のコラボレーションの可能性が注目された。








王嘉明は、物語の背景を核戦争が終わったばかりの無政府状態に設定した。この社会では、すべてのリソースをアメリカのApple Shell社、アジアのGooBrother社、アフリカのDeep Monsando社がそれぞれ独占し、あらゆる情報と知識はネットを通して共有され、娯楽やレジャーも大企業が提供するため、一見便利で自由に見える。





Note Exchangeプロジェクト

この作品『1984,三人姉妹の日々』は台湾の「SWSG」と日本の「第七劇場」が始めたNote Exchangeプロジェクト2年目の作品である。











2018年、Note Exchangeプロジェクトは3年目を迎えた。王嘉明と鳴海康平は、侯孝賢が日本の映画監督、故・小津安二郎に敬意を表して制作した映画『珈琲時光』を土台にして3年目の作品を作ろうとしている。






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