A comic parable inspired by a Chinese fairytale that has appeared in many forms, including Puccini's popular opera of the same name, Brecht's version was influenced by his experience of Germany in the build-up to the Second World War. The production began performances Sept. 4 for a run to Oct. 4.
Turandot is being presented in a new version by Edward Kemp — whose version of Gottold Lessing's Nathan the Wise was seen at Hampstead in 2005 — and directed by Anthony Clark, Hampstead's artistic director, with a cast that includes Chipo Chung (Talking to Terrorists at the Royal Court, The Overwhelming at the National) as Princess Turandot and Gerard Murphy (associate artist of the RSC and Birmingham Rep, who has also appeared in the films "Batman Begins" and "Waterworld") as the Emperor.
Its story was originally found in a book of traditional Persian stories, "One Thousand and One Days." Set in a pseudo China where an aging ruler's power is sustained by the Imperial tax on cotton, it revolves around what happens when a bumper harvest forces a decline in price. The Emperor decides to hide all the cotton; as his subjects become restless with the disappearance of their livelihoods and the ensuing poverty, the erratic Emperor asks his advisors to come up with a story to conceal the truth. Those who rise to the challenge will either win the hand of the beautiful, hot-blooded Princess Turandot or be sentenced to death.
In a press statement, translator Kemp said, "It's a rich, complex play. It has extraordinary set pieces which you wouldn't expect from the hand of Brecht. There's a very strong vein of ideology running through it which seems to me absolutely pertinent now. A lot of my job has been trying to structure the play and every now and then just giving it a gentle nudge towards 2008 but it doesn't require much, I have to say. I think he knew the world we are living in now was round the corner."
Kemp, who was recently appointed artistic director at RADA, has also written or adapted The Ground Beneath Her Feet (Manchester International Festival), 5/11, Six Pictures of Lee Miller and The Master and Margarita (all for Chichester Festival Theatre), As I Lay Dying (Young Vic), Don Juan and The Hypochondriac (both for the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds), The Myteries for the National Theatre and The Way of the World (National's Lyttelton). He has also worked in opera and ballet. Clark, who has been artistic director at Hampstead since 2003, has previously directed My Best Friend, Tender, The Maths Tutor, Revelations, When the Night Begins, Osama the Hero, A Single Act, Nathan the Wise, The Schuman Plan, The Glass Room, Taking Care of Baby, Life after Scandal and Little Wolf's Book of Badness there. He was previously artistic director at Manchester's Contact Theatre, and an associate director of Birmingham Repertory Theatre.
The cast also includes David Yip, Julie Jupp, Gemma Chan, Jamie Newall, Col Farrell, Alex Hassell and Mia Soteriou.
For tickets contact the box office at 020 7722 9301 or visit www.hampsteadtheatre.com.