Fresh take on classic Chinese play

Teahouse play by Lao She

Teahouse play by Lao She – Photo by

The traditional stage that was created in the 1950s becomes new again in the twenty-first century in the Beijing People’s Art Theatre production of Lao She’s Teahouse. The epic drama of Chinese culture, history and politics runs Nov. 10 -11 at The Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts.

“Teahouse is the pinnacle of Chinese theater. This work is well-known in the theatre world,” says Liang Guanhua, who has been working in the theatre for 35 years and plays the role of protagonist tearoom manager Wang Li.

The story is told through these characters portraying the history of modern China, particularly the inevitable demise of the old China in modern history. Each named character in the play represents a walk of life following fate, from start to finish.

Guanhua hopes the audience will enjoy the drama’s depiction of the characters’ circumstances in the historical and social conditions of modern China. The play is also an opportunity for viewers to learn about Chinese drama achievement and to appreciate the skill of Chinese actors.

“Even though there are generational differences between older and younger actors, the play still preserves the original performance style that is a mix of tradition and reality. This brings freshness to the modern audience,” says Pu Cunxin, who plays the role of Chang Siye.

Cunxin’s character makes a few appearances throughout the play. Most notable, he expresses his own philosophy. In the third act, he complains and is outraged as a citizen.

“In his final cry, the writer expresses his views of the social situation and changing ages through the perspective of an ordinary citizen. This play displays typical Chinese characteristics, which fostered the progress and prosperity of the China over half a century during the past century. Mr. Lao She depicts those characteristics through Chang Siye,” explains Cunxin.

Development of play

Teahouse is a repertory play, which is one of the most classic legacy plays, according to Cunxin, who first saw the play while he was still in elementary school.

“[At] that time, I was particularly interested in and impressed by the first act of the play, especially the way each character entered the stage, such as little Liu Mazi, Er Dezi, Qin Erye, and how Song Er Ye treasured the Yellow Bird. It’s still fresh in my memory,” he recalls.

Although the second and third acts were not easy for him to understand as a child, he still remembered the actors’ charisma and demeanor in the first act.

In the 1980s, the play was revived. At the same time, Cunxin was gaining experience as a professional actor and had a better understanding of the classic play.

In 1992, the retiring players were putting on a farewell performance, which Cunxin was part of. Through observing the rehearsals and performances, he witnessed these actors’ creativity. The performance greatly affected him.

“The influence handed down by those old-timers in the 1960s and 1980s became very important to us,” says Cunxin, who has worked in professional theater since 1977.

Career in Chinese theatre

In 1987, Cunxin joined the Beijing People’s Art Theatre.

“While I was a young student, I worked on an agriculture production team in the Northeast China. My duty was an art performer in a promotion group, dancing and acting in the country fields. Those art performances enriched me greatly, gave me practical stage experience with no fear on stage,” he explains.

Chinese actors prefer to perform in plays written by famous writers, Cunxin says, such as Lao She and Cao Yu.

Cunxin has also performed in western plays, including Shakespearean plays such as Hamlet and King Lear as well as Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and Uncle Vanya.

For more information about Teahouse, visit