Every family has its dark secrets. And some “happy” households can be a facade.
In celebrated Chinese playwright Tsao Yu’s work Thunderstorm, these hard truths ring true.
It is considered one of China’s most famous modern theatre works and Tsao Yu is regarded as China’s Henrik Ibsen (Norwegian playwright and poet).
Thunderstorm is set during the Japanese invasion of China in 1937, is a curious study of how deceit can destroy lives, told through the Chou and Lu family.
“It’s a tragedy, a love story and a very human story. It is lush and very moving and talks about topics which we may consider as taboo,” says Datuk Faridah Merican, who has had strong ties with this Chinese theatre work.
Faridah, 79, had acted in the Malay language adaptation of Thunderstorm (called Ribut), in 1983 and 2001. She went on to direct it in English in 2017 and now the first lady of Malaysian theatre returns with a new staging of Thunderstorm, which opens at KLPac on July 25.
She is directing this upcoming version of the show with Easee Gan from Muka Space.
The play will be presented in Hokkien and Cantonese with English surtitles. This production is staged in conjunction with The Actors Studio’s 30th anniversary.
Thunderstorm, set in Ipoh during the tin mining boom, features Season Chee, MayJune Tan, Brian Chan, Izen Kong, Mark Beau de Silva, Amelia Tan, John Tan and Paige Chan.
“When we staged in it English two years ago, I was looking at it and already saying that this would go down very well in Chinese. After all, it was originally written in Chinese,” says Faridah.
“I don’t speak Cantonese but I can understand and speak a bit of Hokkien since I’m from Penang. This is when the actors from the Chinese theatre come in. They took a large chunk of the responsibility with the language,” she continues.
Thunderstorm has been adapted into several stage plays and films, which includes a 1957 Hong Kong film version starring a young Bruce Lee, and Zhang Yimou’s 2006 film Curse Of The Golden Flower, a very loose adaptation set in ancient China
Thunderstorm takes place in the span of one day and revolves around Chou Pu-Yuan (Chee), a very wealthy and successful self-made man who has grown impervious to love and the ties of blood and affection. No one knows where his wealth comes from and as the story unfolds, one dark secret after another surfaces, threatening to destroy everything and everyone.
Thunderstorm, dealing with extra marital affairs and incestuous relationships, follows a web of intrigue between the members of the Chou household, most notably a secret involving Pu-yuan’s wife Fan-Yi (Tan) and her step-son Chou Ping (Chan), whose actions come back to haunt them.
Chee, 44, describing his character as “a dictator and a strict and somewhat unreasonable man.”
One of the major themes explored in the play, he adds, is about “taking full responsibility for one’s own actions.”
Chan, 25, who reprises his role as the eldest son Chou Ping, says: “The play is about the struggles of a family that tries to go on with their lives knowing or not knowing the sins of their father.”
Chan, (who won the Best Actor In A Leading Role award at the 16th Boh Cameronian Arts Awards in the musical theatre category for his role in Ola Bola The Musical), maintains that his character isn’t a bad person.
“Being the oldest son, he grows up with a sense of burden and pressure from his very powerful and controlling father. He is trying to find his own redemption with his own path and ends up leaving a lot of collateral damage along the way,” says Chan.