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adapted from the novel Five Spice Street by Can Xue
and directed by Megan Evans
presented by Hard Sleeper Theatre Company

at Studio 77, VUW, Wellington
From 21 Feb 2013 to 2 Mar 2013

Reviewed by:  John Smythe;

Spicy adventures of the mysterious Madam X add flavour to NZ Fringe Festival 

As part of the 2013 Fringe Festival, Hard Sleeper Theatre Company will offer up a twisted stage adaptation of an avant-garde Chinese novel. Madam X and Mister Q is a wild and terrifyingly funny examination of rumour and scandal in an insular neighbourhood. The production is adapted from the novel Five Spice Street by noted Chinese author Can Xue, the only woman amongst the group of 'avant-garde' authors to emerge in 1980s post-Mao China.

Director Megan Evans heads the company, Hard Sleeper, building on courses in Asian and Intercultural performance practices she has taught at Victoria University Theatre Programme where she is a Senior Lecturer.  Over the years, these courses have culminated in exciting, highly theatrical shows including Big Love (2011), The Master and Margarita (2010) and Pericles (2009).  The intensely physical staging of Madam X features many alumni of the VUW Asian theatre courses (including Raichael Doohan, Sam Hallahan, Josh McDonald and Kattral O'Sullivan) who are taking their training and performance experience to a higher level.

The plot centres on the characters' increasingly bizarre debate about the identity, actions, motivations, and arguable supernatural powers of the mysterious outsider, Madam X. Their obsessive attention to her spicy affair with Mister Q reveals universal human fears and longing, with an occasional thrilling dash of details specific to Chinese Mainland history and culture. The action plays out in the provocative visual world designed by Kattral O'Sullivan (set and puppets) and Uther Dean (lights). Inspired by a haunting landscape that Evans witnessed from the window of a Chinese train—acres of dead trees whose leaves had been succeeded by discarded plastic—the set will be constructed primarily from recycled plastic bags. O'Sullivan's edgy and elegant design is both a critique of and ethical response to the environmental degradation that has accompanied China's economic boom.

The company's name is drawn from classes of train travel in Mainland China. According to Evans, "In the mid-90s when I first went to China, the second class train ticket got you a 'Hard Sleeper' bunk. It offered a truly exquisite balance of challenge, comfort, economy, and fun! And so these tickets were often brutally difficult to obtain, even for the locals. This has become a metaphor for the kind of theatre I want to create: rigorously crafted but full of hard scrabble energy."

Scripting of the stage adaptation is by Dr. Evans who, as part of her development process, also conducted workshop sessions with theatre students in Beijing. While not making any claims to represent Chinese culture, the productionoffers Wellington an intriguing introduction to this important contemporary Chinese writer and the first of her full-length novels to be translated into English, published by Yale University Press in 2009.

Madam X and Mister Q plays
Thursday 21 February through Saturday 2 March at 7.30 (no shows Sunday or Monday)
at VUW's Studio 77, located at 77 Fairlie Terrace in Kelburn.
Tickets are $15 waged, $8 concession.