Have you ever gone to watch a foreign film only to find out it has no subtitles and you sat through it anyway? You start to think, “I speak the language of life and people, this is totally going to make sense and I am going to feel smarter for having seen it”. Well that is essentially what sitting through Sever is like except it made no sense and I didn’t feel smarter at the end.
Sever is a production brought to OzAsia by the China Shanghai International Arts Festival. It follows the story of the legendary character Guan Yu from the Three Kingdoms period suddenly finding himself in modern day China. His navigation of this landscape is documented on screen and accompanied by live musicians. His journey is interjected by images of a modern day Diao Chan preparing to give a performance and ends with the two meeting on stage.
The characters come from a famous 14th century historical novel called The Romance of the Three Kingdoms: a text that is extremely famous in China. It is essentially the Chinese equivalent of Shakespeare. The text is a romanticised version of the historical events between the time of 184-220 AD. I googled all of that after the show in an attempt to make sense of what I saw.
The beginning of the show three slides were shown on the screen containing some Chinese text, which I am assuming, was explaining the story; unfortunately the English subtitles were covered by the musicians and thus us non fluent bi-linguals were left in the dark.
The graphics themselves were stunning and the musicians obviously talented but it was difficult to be drawn in to a story that you couldn’t understand. The connection between the female character and the lost historical male was not clear. How the male character came to be in modern China was also not articulated or explored.
The show was advertised as being an hour in duration but actually finished in 45 minutes. Following that was a bizarre 45-minute jazz opera performance by the band, complete with a power sax and electric guitar.
After taking a few days to digest and unpack the performance in an attempt to make sense of what I saw I am still at a loss. I am confused but not necessarily disappointed. Sure, I wish that there more thought put in to how to make the show approachable for Australian audiences, but in the end there was a lot of talent on that stage. Puzzling displays of talent but talent none the less.
Image: OzAsia Festival