By Lau Leung Che, Miriam

I embarked on my doctoral studies at the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham in May 2012. Supervised by Professor Michael Dobson, Director of the Shakespeare Institute, my research interests are in the Chinese adaptations of Shakespearean plays, and I am interested in comparing small-scale student productions with large-scale theatrical productions that go on global tours, such as Macbeth, The Tempest and King Lear, which have all been adapted into Chinese opera. Since I am a part-time student, I would usually visit the Shakespeare Institute, located in Stratford-upon-Avon, in the summer. This small town is famous as Shakespeare’s home town, and as a student of the Institute I am fortunate enough to be given a free entrance ticket that allows me entry to all the Shakespeare houses, including Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Anne Hathaway (Shakespeare’s wife)’s Cottage, Hall’s Croft, the Jacobean home of Shakespeare’s daughter, etc.

This year in June I participated in the 15th Annual British Graduate Shakespeare Conference held at the Shakespeare Institute, where I presented a paper titled “Small Time Chinese Shakespeares: Intercultural Adaptations from the Chinese Universities Shakespeare Festival”. This student-run conference was organized in such a way as to allow us to hear the plenary speeches given by professors, and also student presentations. It also had a good combination of theatrical and academic discussion. On one of the evenings we watched the play Hamlet performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Afterwards, we had a panel titled “In Conversation with Hamlet” with Jonathan Slinger, the actor who played Hamlet.

Overall, studying at the Shakespeare Institute is proving to be an exciting experience for me. Apart from intellectual pursuits, I had the opportunity to act in a short play at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Pilot Night in 2012. Pilot Night is an experimental occasion for new directors to test out their ideas on stage. I worked with the director, Lucy Ellinson, who had recruited 14 local people to weave their personal stories in a performance titled “When I Was Old, When I Get Young”, inspired by the “Seven Ages of Man” speech in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. The actors on stage came from a variety of ages, including a new born baby carried by her mother, a university student, a retired lawyer, an old lady in her 80s, etc., and I was the only Asian person there. The entire performance was muted. The director had recorded interviews with each of us beforehand and she broadcasted the highlights of our audio recordings once we stepped on stage.

In my performance, I tried to explore the issue of plural identities—how I tried to move beyond and away from being British (in citizenship) and Chinese (in ethnicity) in different situations. My presence on stage was preceded by my recorded singing of a Chinese poem that illustrates the longing for one’s homeland. First dressed in a yukata (the summer wear of Japanese women, equivalent to a kimono), I mimicked the situation in which Asians are many times misrecognized as Japanese in the West. But when I left the stage, I removed my yukata, showing my traditional Chinese costume of a qipao. I guess my purpose was to illustrate that identities could be performed and they are also fluid and flexible at the same time. Our play was very well received; there was a blackboard outside the theatre on which the audience were invited to write their comments, and one of them wrote, “I really hope that the last play will be commissioned for proper full length play here at the RSC.”

Of course, as a part-time doctoral student, I have to be highly disciplined. Since I have a lot of teaching to do during the semester, I tend to make use of the long summer holidays to focus on my dissertation and get my writing done. At times, it can be lonely and isolating to work so far away from Shakespeare’s home town, but thinking of it in a positive light, solitude and distance inspire a lot of intriguing ideas that might not be otherwise generated at home.

Miriam Leung studied for a BA and MPhil in the School of English. She is now a Lecturer in the Division of Communication and Social Sciences at the Hong Kong Community College (HKPU), and a PhD candidate at the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham in the U.K.


Published on: September 27, 2013 < Back >