13 October 2011

MIAF review: Rhinoceros in Love

MIAF 2011
Rhinoceros in Love
National Theatre of China
7 October 2011
Playhouse, the Arts Centre
to 9 October
melbournefestival.com.au


Rhinoceros in Love stomps to MIAF with some mighty big footprints. First performed in 1999, it's considered China's most successful play and has been performed over 800 times to over a million people. 

Visually striking in black, white, mirrors and water, the dream-like story's dark satire is balanced with moments of buffoonery and contrasted with the frustration and beautiful pain of being young and in love.

Ma Lu has sense of smell as good as the rhinoceros he looks after at the zoo, and he loves Mingming, his dream-girl neighbour who smells of lemon-flavoured gum and a photocopier. She's in love with man who doesn't love her and isn't prepared for the love of a man who tells her she's his warm gloves in winter and cold beer in summer, but doesn't think his poetry is good enough to even write on rhino hide.

The internet has helped me understand a lot more about the context of this work and I've taken heed that director Meng Jinghui thinks that critics who said it was difficult to understand were merely insulting themselves.

I understood it; although, my date for the evening and I disagreed if the Ma Lu and Mingming had had sex. This is very clear to its young fans who quote the text and the 200+ student drama companies who have performed it, and writer Liao Yimei says that she remembers "feeling almost embarrassed by the raw passion and lust". As her characters describe themselves as Generation A Y (angry youth), perhaps Rhinoceros is like The Rocky Horror Show was to me as a teenager.

Sitting next to young Chinese speakers, it was clear that Liao's writing screams so much more than the English translation allows. Mandarin is already a literal language and once it's translated, it loses all subtlety and its stilted poetry can leave an already-distracted surtitle reading audience wondering what they're missing.

Because I'm a theatre nerd I'm so glad that I saw Rhinoceros in Love, but I'm wondering if I'm an old fart who doesn't care about young obsessive love. I still love rhinoceroses though.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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