At the end of the Ming Dynasty, thousands of kilometers from where the European Renaissance was in its naissance, a revolutionary storyteller that would grow to influence centuries of classic Chinese dramatic convention was born. Tang Xianzu—the Shakespeare of the East—continues his influence today at the Assembly Gordon Aikman stage through a new, nested play that reimagines his most famous works: Tang and Four Dreams.
From its first haunting chord, the show is utterly transportive. Through colourful projections, playful light design, period-appropriate costuming, and striking makeup, the entire stage is a spectacle to behold—a magnetic void to an age long gone, yet newly imagined. The show celebrates nature, music, and a classical era when morality and power still had a role in the search for power.
The performers are absolutely transfixing. They are seasoned professionals that sing with a poetic grace and fervent emotion that transcends the use of language. As they sing they harmonise not only with each other, but with the fantastic orchestra around them, causing the audience to swell and move with the music, almost in a trance.
The show flashes from a present time to the time of Xianzu, showing how interrelated all his lessons continue to be with Chinese culture, folk ritual, and life in general. It stresses how connected humans should be to their past and how conscious we should be of our future.
Conveying many dream sequences can be a difficult challenge while trying to continue a solid plot. However Tang and Four Dreams manages this in a marvelous fashion that keeps the romantic, lucidity of a daydream, while incorporating a streamlined, double-structure storyline with the help of a few mystical narrators.
Overall, Tang and Four Dreams paints an accurate and poised reflection of post-medieval China that relates flawlessly to our own era. It is as soft and sultry as a lullaby, yet as grand and imposing as the epic man who first gave them life.