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When rivers meet with diverse cultures

What would you expect from a collection of artistes from five countries on the same stage?

Yes, diversity. Confluence of rivers, a collection of artistes from Hong Kong, Thailand, Bangladesh, France and Uganda last week staged a play titled, Ashes Blood Rivers, at the National Theatre. The play revolves around a king who journeys on the river with his crew in search for the Naga – the Dragon God, who would give him the power to conquer the source of the river and rule it for eternity.

Mysterious forces (depicted by a strong storm, thunder, lightning, and strange voices), however, stop the boat –coming with them a mythical Common Man who questions the king’s ambition to conquer the source of the river. Up until the king ordered to have a dam built on the river, the Common Man used to fish from the river. The river seemingly houses rare species of fish that marvel the king’s subjects. Instead, he coerces the king to consider what his actions will do to the environment, and what his quest will do to his subjects.

Despite the low turnout, the actors put up a pulsating show and the audience’s favourite was the king’s wife, who ironically was male, but played his role flawlessly as the king strived to impress “her” with romantic gestures, especially talking to her in French, the romantic language.

It was a fusion of diverse art forms. From Hong Kong’s Cantonese Opera, Thai dance, Lathi Khela (Bangladeshi stick-fighting) to Ugandan dance, and France’s Mime and Commedia dell’Arte, all were articulately woven and laced with romance, humour and irony – with an underlying theme that explores the relationship between people, civilisation, power and the environment.

The various languages that were used alongside English spiced up the show and not to mention, the actors’ heavy accents with which they spoke English. The choice of artistes revolved around some of the world’s five major rivers: Pearl River (Hong Kong) Mekong River (Thailand), Ganges River (Bangladesh), River Nile (Uganda) and River Seine (France) –where ancient civilisations were born and cultivated.

As the cradles of life, these rivers contain the root of the cultures of the people, and still are playing important roles in the existence of modern, urbanised populations. The artistes came up with the play to dig back into the history of cultures, to explore the wisdom from the people around these rivers, to investigate into the challenges today, and to fuse them into one performance that tells the tale of humanity’s past, present, future and our collective role to conserve our environment, especially the rivers.

The performance also depicts the rivers as origins of life, with water as a symbol to discuss globalisation, environmental issues, and political power relationships between countries.
The play was first shown in Hong Kong before coming to Uganda and will be moved to other respective countries.


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