As early as 2012, Malthouse Theatre began exploring the possibility of a cultural exchange with the National Theatre of China. Their plans came to fruition in 2014, when The Good Person of Szechuan debuted in Melbourne directed by a superstar of the Chinese stage, Meng Jinghui. Working across Australian and Chinese theatrical practice, the production also straddled languages, with Meng addressing his cast and crew through a translator. In October 2014, Malthouse Theatre brought The Good Person of Szechuan to China, with a run at the National Theatre in Beijing followed by two nights at the Shanghai International Arts Festival. The work was presented in both Melbourne and China with Mandarin subtitles.
For Malthouse Theatre's Executive Producer, Sarah Neal, the benefits of this cross-cultural production began at home. 'Melbourne is a culturally rich city so the idea of having only white, Anglo stories on stage makes no sense,' she says. 'Working with content and directors with different voices add a richness to what we're doing.'
In addition to extending the life of the work, Neal points out that the Chinese co-production has exposed the company and affiliated artists to non-Western creative practices. 'The whole point of doing this is that you learn from each other,' she says. 'It's the mind shift you make when you have a really different perspective coming in and working on a show. Having a fresh perspective really challenges us, otherwise everything becomes too familiar. I think that's the whole point of doing what we do.'
Malthouse Theatre plans to reciprocate the arrangement with the National Theatre in the future, sending a director to produce work with a Mandarin-speaking cast and then transporting the work to Melbourne. In the meantime, the company has extended its international activities to Bangalore, India, where former Artistic Marion Potts conducted a creative development of a Hindu/English version of Federico García Lorca's Blood Wedding. As Neal explains, forming relationships with a wide variety of international partners is a key element of the company's forward strategy.
'Our first priority as a company is to get people in to see shows at The Coopers Malthouse in Melbourne but it's important for us to be working on the international stage; in the same way that Melbourne in every other respect is an international city, the arts should speak to a globalised audience.'