Das Kapital relaunched as musical manifesto for capital-obsessed China

English.news.cn   2010-08-24 17:08:03 FeedbackPrintRSS

SHANGHAI, Aug. 24 (Xinhua) -- When Karl Marx famously said "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce," he might well have added "...or as a musical."

One can only guess at what the great political and economic philosopher might have thought of his best-known work, Das Kapital, distilled into a song and dance production -- but Shanghai audiences have been flocking to see it since it opened last week.

Broadway musical elements have been adopted in this black humor story, which involves the audience in a critique of modern capitalism and the social realities of 21st Century China.

"Confronting current social realities, how to reinterpret Marx's masterpiece became the mainspring for producing the stage play," says He Nian, who directs the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center production at the Shanghai Majestic Theater.

While it may have borrowed the most famous title penned by Marx (1818-1883), He says the performance taps into and reflects a renewed interest in the work.

"Marx's 'Das Kapital' has run out of copies in some Western countries since the financial crisis in 2008, and a Japanese cartoon version of 'Das Kapital' has also became a best-seller again," says the 30-year-old director.

High housing prices, second generations of the rich, and the financial crisis are the modern phenomena interpreted according to the theories of Marxist economics.

The production tells a story of an actor who plans to raise 10 million yuan (1.47 million U.S. dollars) to invest in a stage play. However, it turns into a capital operation after China's most successful real estate tycoon and most popular comedian join in.

The actor becomes the performance company's boss and the company is soon listed on the Nasdaq exchange. Standard and Poor even creates an "applause index" for it -- the more applause the higher the share price.

The index shows enthusiastic applause for the play as each member of the audience becomes a shareholder in the play with his or her ticket.

Workers, however, respond in different ways after they discover they have been exploited by their boss and discover the theory of "surplus value," the value of the product compared to the value of their labor.

Some are willing to be exploited, since they believe the tougher their boss, the more they are valued. Some negotiate with the boss, but the risk of unemployment and high housing loans make them compromise.

Eventually "Das Kapital" has no stage and no actors or actresses in the theater, but only the thunder of applause from the audience, the shareholders of the play within a play. The share price breaks its own record time and time again until a financial crisis approaches.

The definition of "capital" and its true value are the theme of the play.

"China cannot develop without capital. Capital is neither good nor bad, neither angel nor devil," says Yu Rongjun, the writer.

However, Yang Shaolin, general manager of the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center and production designer, believes that profit-driven capital needs to be regulated, controlled and supervised.

Yang claims that financial regulations and surplus value allocations become subjects for public debate after the performance.

Yang says neither the government nor the public have challenged the production and he is confident that tickets will continue to sell well.

The first volume of Marx's master work was published in 1867, and the other two volumes were released in 1885 and 1894.

Marx also famously said that art is "the immortal movement of its time," but this production runs until Aug. 29.

Editor: Zhang Xiang
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