Australia's Polyglot Theatre lived up to its name this week, premiering a brand new, Chinese-language version of its hit Muckheap at the prestigious National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing on Saturday. "Polyglot‟ literally means “many languages,” and the company is celebrating the tenth anniversary of Muckheap by mounting a new production created in partnership with Chinese artists based in Shanghai.
The new production will tour China until August, then tour to the United States in October (where it will be performed in English), before creating a third version of Muckheap later in 2011, when an Auslan sign language version is premiered. The popular work has toured nationally and internationally for ten years – everywhere from the Sydney Opera House to the Esplanade Theatre Singapore, to a paddock in Queensland, and it has been seen by over 90,000 children to date – the equivalent of a Carlton-Essendon final at the MCG.
“Performing Muckheap in three different languages in the one year is incredibly exciting,” says Executive Producer Simon Abrahams, “and premiering at Beijing's prestigious National Centre for the Performing Arts continues Polyglot's extraordinary international trajectory which has seen us perform at national theatres across the globe over the past two years including London's Royal National Theatre, Washington's Kennedy Center and the National Theatre of Korea.”
Muckheap is known in Mandarin as La Ji Da Bian Shen. It was translated from English for a Chinese audience as a result of a four month collaboration with the Shanghai International Performing Arts Centre and Reckless Moments, an independent Shanghai based production company specialising in international collaborations. This exciting project was supported by the Australian International Cultural Council, an initiative of the Australian Department of Foreign Trade and Affairs, the Australia-China Council, and Arts Victoria.
Melbourne-based Director Merophie Carr spent four weeks in Shanghai developing the new production in collaboration with local Translator, Dramaturg and Assistant Director Hu He. “Working in Shanghai was exciting, challenging, and liberating,” says Merophie. “Their theatre-making culture is very different but the cast and crew were intrigued by our creative process and dedicated themselves to creating an extraordinary show.” Kathryn Sproul created new set and costume designs, working with set-builders at the Shanghai Theatre Academy to realise her vision, which they first saw via a miniature to-scale pop-up cardboard set model sent through the post. New Zealand-based artist Jim Fulton created the sound design.
Muckheap was written by Polyglot's Artistic Director Sue Giles with Megan Cameron and Sarah Kriegler in 2001. Careful attention was paid to the translation and tailoring of the script to suit a Chinese-speaking audience and the casting and hiring of local performers to reproduce the work. Shanghai Locals Liu Zixiao, Sun Xinhong, Zhang Tian, Zhou Yanyan headed up two separate casts for the show, which the company anticipates will stay on and tour Chinese-speaking territories into the future.
Muckheap is the fast and funny story of two people trying to clean out their shed. In the process, they find everything they thought of as junk is too interesting, too useful or too full of sentimental value to throw away. “Muckheap continues to be just as relevant and entertaining today as when it was first created in 2001” says Artistic Director Sue Giles. “Its universal message encourages children to become their own story makers and encourages imaginative play through whatever they have at hand at home. It works across cultures and is fantastically messy” she adds.
Polyglot continues to be Australia's busiest children's theatre company last year delivering 157 performances of seven works, creation of two new works, and reached a total of 105,872 people in seven countries. Polyglot's newest work City of Riddles recently completed a successful premiere at the MTC Theatre and will return for a Victorian regional and metropolitan tour in July.