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Using loudspeakers as his main tool, theater director Wang Chong attempts to tell a story about the mechanisms of war in his latest production The Warfare of Landmine 2.0. Xu Lin reports.
Six people in colorful trousers make a circle on a pink montage foam floor. When one black loudspeaker lands slowly in the middle of the circle, they fall down one by one and huddle up.
It’s a scene about the atomic bomb from The Warfare of Landmine 2.0, the latest production by theater director Wang Chong from the Beijing-based Theatre du Reve Experimental.
The play will soon have its world premiere in Festival/Tokyo, one of the biggest performing arts festivals in Asia, and later go on stage in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.
“It’s a unique production about introspection of wars and arts related to wars,” Wang says.
He says the loudspeaker may be an interesting gadget in real life, but in the play it represents deadly weapons such as landmine and cannon. When someone dies, it lands on the ground and symbolizes death.
Wang is known for using multimedia in his recent works such as Ibsen in One Take, in which he stationed a cameraman to film the performers, and project them onto a big screen for the audience.
But for The Warfare of Landmine 2.0, Wang incorporates sound, and it’s a challenge because no one has ever used so many loudspeakers in a play.
During the onset of the performance, performers use several loudspeakers onstage to record different voices to represent sounds of weapons or wars. The sounds are then released throughout the play. That’s how the performers communicate with each other.
The sounds include cries of a baby, gun shots and landmine explosions.
These loudspeakers demonstrate the history of weapon development from bows and arrows right up to firearms during the industrial era.
“In the old days, actors used a simple stick to represent everything including gun. The loudspeaker is as versatile as the stick,” he says.
According to Wang, it costs only about 20 yuan ($3.30) to buy a loudspeaker. The cost of a landmine is also cheap and some common weapons are not expensive.
“This commonality connects the loudspeakers with wars,” he says.
The Warfare of Landmines is actually the name of a popular Chinese movie in the 1960s, which tells the story about how militiamen and villagers defeated Japanese troops using landmines during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-45).
Chinese movies and TV soaps about the war tend to stereotype Japanese soldiers as stupid and inhuman, with some ridiculous scenes to make Chinese heroes stand out, such as shooting down a Japanese airplane with a grenade.
“Such TV soaps have high audience ratings. People like to watch ‘you’ and ‘we’, in opponent positions. But our play is not related to the original movie that much, and the characters have no nationalities,” he says.
Wang read many historical documents about wars including the Counterattack against Vietnam in Self-Defense in 1979. In one scene, the performer reads the epitaphs of Chinese soldiers who died in the war.
“It’s very shocking to hear all those names, most of whom were in their early 20s. Deaths in wars happen suddenly. That’s death, that’s war,” he says.
“The play is like a prose poetry, rather than a story. I try to tell the audience about war mechanism. What is war? What is weapon? How do people start to fight with each other? What does all this mean?” he says.
To convey these ideas in monologues, he also uses excerpts from famous works such as Carl Gustav Jung’s psychology books.
The background setting is very lively with a variety of colors. Performers die and are reborn instantly, and such action repeats many times. It looks as if they are some dumb characters from a video game about war.
“It’s a criticism against the idea of interpreting war as a game, which is common in some books, video games and movies,” he says.
“The production may appear like a comedy, but reflects the cruelty of wars by their repeated death and rebirth.”