Arts

U of O’s production of Princess T a story of love and power with cast led by puppet

 Photos by Annie Thomas

“I am the curtain,” announces a figure dressed completely in black with a delicately painted white face. “And I am rising,” answers the chorus on a curtainless stage.

The cast and crew of the University of Ottawa Drama Guild’s production of Princess T are getting ready for their opening performance. The play runs from Oct. 29 to Nov. 2 at 8 p.m. in Academic Hall.

The many unconventional elements of this play will hit the audience from the start. The title character, the cruel Chinese princess Turandot, is not human; she is a wooden puppet that physically interacts with other characters as if she were alive.

“The way that Hélène [Ducharme, the director] said it, is that I have to breathe with the puppet,” says Danielle Savoie, who voices and works with other puppeteers to control Princess Turandot. “She is a very passionate character. She believes that as the empress, she could make China a better place, but in order to do that she kills everybody who tries to marry her.”

Princess Turandot has set up a cunning ritual: all suitors must answer three riddles correctly in order to marry her. If they answer incorrectly, they are mercilessly beheaded, which is the fate of all suitors except for one man: a lowly water carrier. Against her own wishes, Princess T develops tender feelings for this man who appears to be a foolishly hopeful and romantic commoner.

However, Princess T is not just a love story. Written by contemporary playwright Daniela Fischerová in the 1940s, it was censored when it was first performed in Czechoslovakia because of its honest portrayal of mistrust, betrayal, and the struggle for power.

“What is interesting is that it’s a really political critique about the way things are always dealt with and organized, and the power of the government over the people, and how they are maintaining the people,” says director Hélène Ducharme.

Ducharme transforms the play using shadow puppets and special lighting to create visually captivating scenes. She also preserves the Czech origin with the five Czech cabaret clowns who act as the chorus, direct the play, and represent the people.

“I absolutely love the clown chorus,” says Meaghan Flaherty, who plays Adelma. “I think they are hilarious. Some of my favourite lines come from them.”

The original music scores composed by Lewis Caunter also set apart this adaptation of the play.

“I had to do a lot of research into Peking opera, and from there, I used computer software to create facsimiles of ancient Chinese instruments,” says Caunter. “The music sets the mood and atmosphere for scenes with little dialogue or action.”

“There’s a twist ending that I don’t want to give away,” says Aaron Williams, who plays Princess T’s only successful suitor. “You’ll be able to see all those things come together in this disjointed world. From the time the audience arrives to the time they leave the theatre should be an experience like no other.”

Tickets are $20, or $10 for students and can be reserved at the Secretariat on the second floor of 135 Séraphin Marion (613–562–5761) or by email at theatre@uottawa.ca.