The Handan Dream at Hackney Empire

Monday 18 December 2017

Off-West End - Shows

A contemporary re-telling of one of China's most beloved dramas, directed by one of the country's leading female directors, Wang Xiaodi, is destined for Hackney Empire in January.
The Handan Dream at Hackney Empire

Image: Performance Infinity

Combining bold design with drama, stagecraft and symbolism, this contemporary telling of a classic Chinese play is the story of a man who dreams an entire life only to wake up in the inn where he started.

Performed in Mandarin with English surtitles and with strikingly colourful costumes by one of the lead costume designers on the Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony, The Handan Dream began life in Guangzhou and has been performed at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing, as well as touring internationally.

The show will be performed at Hackney Empire in the lead up to Chinese New Year on 16th February in the city that hosts the biggest Chinese New Year celebrations outside Asia.

Here's the trailer ..

Tang Xianzu is one of China's most revered playwrights, and is often described as China's Shakespeare having died in the same year as the Bard.

The Handan Dream is one of the most well-known of Tang Xianzu's plays along with The Peony Pavilion.

In ancient China, the highest of ambitions was to pass the imperial examinations and become a civil servant.

Dejected protagonist Lu has tried and failed the exams three times.

On his way home Lu stops at an inn, but while waiting to be served his food he falls into a deep sleep in which he dreams of an entire well-spent life.

Lu studies for exams, earns a degree, falls in love, gets married and has children, is condemned to death, is cleared of all charges, and slowly grows old.

Just as his food is about to be served, the young man wakes and realises it was nothing but a dream.

With music inspired by traditional Chinese Kun opera to accompany the scripted drama, The Handan Dream will immerse audiences in an intriguing world between illusion and reality.

Influenced by Chinese/Zen philosophy, dream and illusion is a common topic in Chinese literature and art.

What lies behind is the contemplation on consciousness and whether reality is ultimately empty.

The show is directed by Wang Xiaodi, an award-winning Chinese female director whose mother was also a famous director.

Different from the traditional interpretation of the story which focuses on bureaucracy and corruption, Wang Xiaodi's version emphasises the Chinese views of fate and Tang Xianzu's philosophies on life to create a Handan Dream that is open-minded and poetic.

The costume is by award-winning designer Li Rayding, who was selected as one of the Lead Costume Designers for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing where he worked alongside two-time Oscar Award-winner Ishioka Eiko.

Jane Walsh, Executive Producer at Hackney Empire, said ...

"Hackney Empire is delighted to welcome this visually stunning production of the The Handan Dream to its stage in January 2018.

Presented by the acclaimed Guangzhou Dramatic Arts Centre, this UK premiere of the well-known masterpiece will be a colourful spectacle for all to enjoy."

Guangzhou Dramatic Arts Centre is a Guangzhou Dramatic Arts Centre is a leading producing house in China.

Guangzhou is China's third largest city and enjoys an open and diverse creative climate as well as convenient access to Hong Kong.

Guangzhou Dramatic Arts Centre has produced more than 80 performances from world classics to contemporary Chinese dramas, as well as being the host of a series of international events, including Translunar Paradise and Light by Theatre Ad Infinitum, Finding Joy by Vamos, and a cross-country commission with British director Natasha Bettering.

The production is brought to the UK by Performance Infinity, a London-based company of producers that specialises in intercultural exchange between the UK and China.


Lu - Li He

Taoist Priest - Guan Dongtian (Invited)               

Prime Minister - Chen Zhirong

Eunuch - Zhu Min

Waiter/Old Maidservant - Sun Bo

Cui - Zeng Junhui

Donkey/Officer/Illegitimate Son - Wang Fang

Dog/Foreman/Eldest Son - Hu Wei

Rooster/Youngest Son - Wang Ping       

Fire/County Official - Chen Huanhuan

Fire/Xiao - Ma Junwen

Fire/Pei - Wan Jing


Author: Tang Zianzu, adapted by Yu Qingfeng, Qu Zhaojie

Composer: Dong Weijie

Director: Wang Xiaodi 

Set designer: Ji Qiao

Costume designer: Li Raying

Lighting: Xing Xin

Movement: Yao Xiaoming


Hackney Empire

291 Mare Street

London E8 1EJ


25 to 27 January 2018


£20 to £35

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