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Apr 16 2019


Greg Choi

On April 24, 25, and 26, the Senior School Arts department will present an adaptation of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" in the BCIS Theatre. This blood-soaked tragedy explores the ideas of pride, ambition, and the corruptive influence of power. It asks if our lives are ruled by us alone, or does fate govern our futures. Please read on for what Mr. Phil Clarke, Drama and DP Theater Teacher, had to say regarding this.

Why Shakespeare? Why now?

William Shakespeare lived and worked in London over four hundred years ago. He wrote in a very different time and in a vastly different world to Beijing in 2019. It was a world without computers, phones, and TV and the mass media. It could be argued, it was the theatre. The language he wrote in was from a different era and for many of us, incomprehensible on first hearing or reading. For many of us, the study of Shakespeare at school was a book and meant spending hours trying to decipher the texts and the poetry that lay in front of us on the page. Yet, schools, universities, and institutions worldwide still see the importance of William Shakespeare as part of their English and Drama courses. The question is why? How did this playwright from four centuries ago claim so much of our valuable curriculum? For me, the answer has different layers. Shakespeare's work is universal. It transcends space and time and is relevant for all, not just in western or English-speaking countries. Like much good literature, his themes and big ideas leave us with more questions than answers and asks us to take a measure of ourselves and the human condition. His language and poetry influenced and shaped what we know as English today and has become part of our collective cultural experience. Finally, as a teacher of theatre, I am astounded by the demands, as well as the simplicity of the work of "The Bard" in its journey from the page to the stage.


Shakespeare's work and plays are not bounded by borders, either territorial or linguistic. He sets his work in twelve different countries, and several in imagined countries. His plays have been translated into over a hundred languages, including, strangely, Klingon. Productions of his work abound in different cultures. In 2012, fifty productions in different languages from all over the world were brought to and staged in London as part of a World Shakespeare festival. China was amongst them, with a production of Richard the Third, in Mandarin. Major Chinese productions are frequently staged. In Beijing, "Macbeth," directed by Huang Ying, along with world renowned Theatre Director Tadashi Suzuki, was staged in 2017. LI Liuyi's production of King Lear was a major success this year. Shakespeare's works have been produced as feature films over four hundred times, with many more in production as I write. The world has embraced Shakespeare's work. One of the reasons this has happened is the universality of his subjects. Shakespeare's plays explore the human condition. They talk of the frailties and emotions that are common to us all, no matter what our background. Macbeth's "vaulting ambition," Juliet and Romeo's first love and parental pressure, and Hamlet's inability to act on what he knows is right are all ideas that we can connect to no matter where we are from. His characters, and the ideas behind the work, speak to us and connect us, while asking us to examine our own lives and frailties.


Language in Elizabethan time was far different than we know as English today. Much vocabulary has been changed or removed altogether. New words have been added and the rules of grammar and spelling have transformed over the years. However, Shakespeare's words are much more than unfamiliar grammar and spelling. Shakespeare's inventive use of poetic and literary devices is of a scale that has never been seen before or after his life. Over seventeen hundred words and phrases in common English use have been attributed to him. Understandably, given the nature and time of his writing, the work may seem alien for many. Part of the joy of learning Shakespeare comes from understanding that fact, and then "picking the locks" to give us access to his astounding body of work.

On Stage

As a director, taking on Shakespeare is both terrifying, and surprisingly, easy. It is also immensely rewarding. For me, the best way to "pick the locks" is to return to the reason the work was written. The plays were performances written for actors on stage. Shakespeare was an actor himself and as such, wrote for actors, knowing what they needed for their craft. He supplies his actors with the clues they need both to access the characters and their complex psychology, as well as staging the work before an audience. The "difficult" text and the poetic devices all become more easily accessible when performed and "actioned" on the stage. At BCIS, Shakespeare is taught in a dynamic way, though actioned readings and performances, both in Chinese and English. Students see Shakespeare live in production and on film. The works are read not as historical artifact, but as living literature. The work is explored contextually, and students see the ideas both in their own experience, and that of the world they are living in. Shakespeare is rigorous and demanding, for sure. But it is also relevant and alive for BCIS students today.

Date: April 24-26

Time: 19:00

Place: BCIS Theatre

Ticket Price: 30 RMB (available from Senior School Office)

(Please note this performance is suitable for Grade 7 students and upwards)