Written and directed by avant-garde author playwright Meng Jinghui, the show follows the trail of Wang Cai (Liu Xiaoye) and Lai Fu (Yin Wang), two country dogs who set off to find their fortunes in the big city. When they arrive, Wang Cai is taken in by rich Westerners and invites Lai Fu to join him at their table. When the owners return, both dogs are kicked out and Wang Cai ends up in prison where he eventually becomes “top dog”.
After appearing on a TV talent show where they are ruthlessly voted off and being charged extortionate prices for an operation, the two canine pals decide that their rural lifestyle wasn’t so bad after all and slope off back to the country.
Two Dogs has been performed more than 1 200 times on mainland China and, judging from the reactions of the Mandarin-speaking members of the audience, its appeal lies in its witty social satire and high-energy humour. Apparently it’s a very funny play.
I say apparently because the English subtitles either whizzed across the screens at a rate even The Terminator would have struggled with, or stalled altogether. And so much of the show was based around crosstalk-style improv that the subtitles referred to for maybe half of the two-hour-plus performance.
Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. There’s an admirable ambition in trying to make a performance so culturally and linguistically rooted in modern China accessible to a wider audience. And you could certainly argue that it’s good for the mono-lingual English speaker to experience what it’s like for the rest of the world once in a while.
Based on audience reaction, Liu Xiaoye clearly has a remarkable talent as a crosstalker and social satirist, and the clowning of the two loveable mongrels is fun to watch. Their repeated batterings (they are slapped, hit with rocks, kicked by Westerners, beaten by prisoners, beaten by hospital security and more) are amusingly performed slo-mo (in the style of pre-teen boys playing war games) and have a lot to say about the difficulties of climbing the social ladder in modern China.
However, with all of that in mind it has to be said, this is a show you’re bound to enjoy more if you speak Mandarin.
The final performance of Two Dogs is at Her Majesty’s Theatre tonight.
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