In Search of the Orphan

The Panjianyuan Market

August 16, 2012

Niki and Xu at Panjianyuan MarketIt's the last day of our short research trip to Beijing.

One of the students who has been showing us around is Xu ('you can me Sue') Yaning. Xu is a stage designer herself and has promised to show Niki a huge 'antiques' market where she herself always goes to buy props for any show she is doing.

The Panjianyuan Market is a great sprawling metropolis of junk. Even the vendors admit that 80% of the antiques on offer are fake, and haggling is expected. Luckily Niki used to run a stall on Portobello Market so she is armed for the challenge, and Xu won't allow us to be ripped off.

We are not supposed to be visiting the market to buy props for The Orphan of Zhao; as we are flying economy we have a very limited luggage allowance. But Niki wants to get inspiration, and she can always take photos of anything she likes and get Xu to send it via the mail later on if necessary.

One of the particular props Niki is hoping she might find is a medicine chest. In one of the most famous scenes in The Orphan of Zhao, a country doctor smuggles a baby out of the palace in his basket, among the herbs and potions. Wherever we have travelled Niki has snapped photos of woven baskets, of all shapes and sizes.

Panjianyuan Market stallBut although this is not strictly a prop buying mission, this great noisy emporium of tat is full of beguiling goodies and I'm not sure that Niki will be able to resist.

Almost the very first stall we pass bristles with calligraphy brushes, of every size, each with different handles made of porcelain, lacquer or plain wood.

The moving denouement of The Orphan of Zhao revolves around the painting of a scroll, which reveals the many lives sacrificed to save the infant child. It is the climax of the play, and needs to be executed with great care. So, we argue to ourselves, there is every reason to buy a couple of these exquisite brushes.

by Greg Doran  |  No comments yet


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