One of the most interesting conversations I had was with a woman who was a textiles entrepreneur and ran a factory. I asked her directly: “has being a woman had an adverse effect on your ability to be successful?” and she very matter-of-factly replied, “nobody cares that I’m a woman. All they care about is that I do a good job.” That may not be the case for everyone but I think, in Britain, even women in positions of power can still feel as though that has held them back in some shape or form. But this woman was very confident in her answer which surprised me – it’s always interesting to have your expectations subverted.
I was also quite surprised – and had an absolutely amazing time – with the Chinese hospitality. In terms of feeding, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. For every layer of society, from the richest to the poorest, food is such an important part of their culture. It’s just amazing. I ate quite a range of unusual things, including seafood I didn’t really recognise; but the whole hospitality, the culture around eating, and the respect they gave was truly eye-opening and – actually – really beautiful and honouring. We got taken out and hosted a few times, and we couldn’t have felt more welcome.
Going to China, and visiting Huai'an deepened my understanding of Snow in Midsummer; particularly, the role of the play in Chinese culture through the centuries, and Dou who fights so hard for injustice. Frances has really taken it all on board and has made the play about a female struggle to fight against injustice – and it’s so important. As a character, Dou provides an important insight into the way the Chinese see themselves. It’s one of the most amazing things about the Yuan Dynasty (13th century) - a female fighting against a corrupt system with injustice at the heart of it. Culturally, it feels like a real responsibility to bring such a character to a British audience and sensibility.
The thing that stayed with me the most about my research trip to China was the up to date, tech-savvy consumerist society that exists alongside their incredibly deep reverence for tradition and antiquity. Interestingly, the two live harmoniously side by side. In some ways they clash, but in others they’re actually very complimentary.
It’s not like anything we have here in the UK, where it feels like we divide modernity and antiquity. But in China, it’s so utterly intertwined. Even the locals say they have 3,000 years of civilisation. And you can really feel it, and it's a remarkable and a humbling experience to do so.
By Justin Audibert, Director of Snow in Midsummer