Paradise in the Vault, Edinburgh
August 9, 2018
Panted Skin. Return (畫皮·歸塵) by the Chinese Traditional Theatre Society at Goldsmiths, University of London is an ambitious and impressive adaptation of the story, Painted Skin (畫皮), from Strange Tales From A Chinese Studio (聊齋誌異), a collection of hundreds of stories put together by Pu Songling (蒲松齡) in the 18th-century.
It’s the latest in a long line of versions of tale that started with Zhu Hong’s (朱虹) 1965 film. More recently, there has been the 2008 award-winning film directed by Gordon Chan Kar-Seung (陳嘉上) and a popular television series. It’s hardly surprising. As with most stories in the collection, Painted Skin straddles the line between the real and supernatural, everyday people and ghosts. Full of tales of gods taking mortal forms or ghosts seeming to be real people, the collection is a rich vein of material to be mined as has been found western choreographers too, most notably Angelin Preljocaj, who recently had much success with The Painting on the Wall, taken from the story, The Mural (畫壁).
A ghost escapes from the afterworld. To hide her true being, she persuades an artist to paint her a beautiful human skin after she falls in love with a scholar. However, her skin is later torn away, and her true identity revealed. Without wishing to get too philosophical, the love story between the living and dead can be seen as a reflection on a search for the soul or a struggle for identity, all in the name of love.
A cross-cultural, cross-genre piece, Panted Skin. Return brings together elements from East and West. Told without words, the movement comes from mime, modern and Chinese classical dance, with a dash of Chinese opera.
Open to different interpretations, Panted Skin. Return is a show of uncertainties, of questions left for the audience to answer for themselves. Is the ghost simply searching for love, or as a demon out to snare man? At the same time, is there something devilish about the man? How true is their love? Indeed, how true could it ever be?
I didn’t find the show particularly suspenseful, and there wasn’t really much horror, but it was a neatly constructed and performed hour of dance-drama as director Hailey Zhu and the performers took us into a surreal world where fantasy and reality blur. Good use was made of limited resources. The story was well-told and the production certainly suggested more than a student work. There were the predictable problems with the Vault’s tiny stage but they were generally well-handled.
An enjoyable hour of music, dance and drama with just the right touch of darkness. Perhaps best, though, was the imagery that it left imprinted on the mind.
Painted Skin. Return, part of the China Focus season, has now finished its run at this year’s Fringe.