"Lear's journey is open to Buddhist interpretation, since he epitomises the belief that all life is suffering," explains David Tse Ka-Shing, artistic director for the Asian company Yellow Earth. Ka-Shing has transposed the action of Shakespeare's tragedy to London and Shanghai, and we are in AD2020. "The themes of King Lear transcend time and place," says Ka-Shing. "Patriarchal autocracy, authoritarianism, injustice and youthful rebellion translates into every culture. Add the volatile dynamics of family relationships, heredity, money, power and love, and you have a potent mix."
Yemang Zhou (the lead in Kaige Chen's 1996 film Temptress Moon) plays Lear, and David Yip (the sleuth in the BBC's The Chinese Detective many moons ago), plays Gloucester/Albany. The production boasts lavish set designs, which have been influenced by Taoist concepts of yin and yang: masculine and feminine, hard and soft, light and dark.
"From the outset, the stage is dominated and unbalanced by the rigidity of Lear's outer world, and only through suffering is his inner world revealed," says Ka-Shing. "The costumes are a fusion of East and West, past and present, male and female - by AD2020, anything goes."
In Ka-Shing's interpretation, the business world has shifted and China is the leading superpower. Lear makes a video-conference call from his Shanghai penthouse to decide how his global business will be divided among his three daughters. But greed and the desire for control leads to a trail of deceit, betrayal, lust and murder.
"Lear and Cordelia's fatal relationship is triggered by miscommunication, despite them both speaking English in Shakespeare's original," says Ka-Shing. "Migrant families today often struggle to communicate between the older and younger generations, due to the use of two languages. I wanted to explore the potential of misunderstanding between a Chinese Lear, with his Confucian values, and an English-educated Cordelia, no longer fluent in her father's tongue and reduced to saying, 'Nothing'."
15 to 18 November (0870 609 1110; www.rsc.org.uk), then touring to 9 DecemberReuse content