Fringe Review: A perfect marriage of the traditional and contemporary in the thrilling “The Monkey King Gets His Staff “


(Image courtesy of JingJu Canada)

I’m going to start by saying that the opportunity to see the stunning costumes in this show is worth the price of admission alone. Bonuses to seeing JingJu Canada’s “Beijing Opera” of today: incredible displays of stylized fighting, water sleeve dancing, puppetry, weapon work, and physical agility.

JingJu, meaning Beijing Opera – or Capital Opera – has been around since the 1800’s. A cultural treasure of China, it is a form of theatre that focuses on fighting, dancing, stylized dialogue, and singing. The ultimate goal is to present beauty – all movements must be beautiful. Under the direction of Shijia Michelle Jiang, performance troupe JingJu Canada very successfully presents us with just that in The Monkey King Gets His Staff.

I was lucky enough to have had some background knowledge of JingJu theatre, but fear not if you have never had the opportunity to experience it. Traditionally, an audience easily recognizes characters based on their costume and makeup, and although here they stick to the customs, as an audience member you are given all the context you need – sometimes even through rap.

I cannot imagine a more effective way of bringing JingJu to Montreal in 2017 than the way this production does. The narrative is an adaptation of an episode from “The Journey To The West,” but the language is accessible and often comedic.

Albeit I am definitely not a JingJu expert, I would say that it seemed like Jiang tried multiple tactics to modernize different traditional conventions. The two warriors having a secret handshake, for example, was an effective way to showcase stylized fighting in a different manner than an actual fight. One instance that I found less effective was the slow motion, which I felt to be much less impressive, and didn’t really contribute to the interesting.

Although most fringe audiences are accustomed to western acting, they will appreciate and learn from this entertaining and unique style of delivery. The actors were all immensely talented, and their training was evident. Every movement felt fluid and light except when it designedly wasn’t supposed to be. I do not know what the traditional delivery of dialogue is like, but I had the impression that at least the Monkey King, The Dragon Emperor, and the Dragon Princess spoke in a traditional fashion, with modern attitude. It really was a lovely blend of custom and contemporary.

The script itself, an adaptation, mattered less than what was happening on stage. Every aspect of the narrative served as a way to exhibit things like (and I am sure these are not the real names for any of these): spear twirling, ribbon dancing, flag waving, and acrobatics. Please pardon my lack of knowledge on the correct terminology for these beautiful arts.

Traditionally, there is no use of backdrops in JingJu, but in The Monkey King Gets His Staff, JingJu Canada uses projections to great effect. They also briefly use the custom two chairs and one table set; this is because the focus should be on the performance, movement, and ultimately, aesthetics.

We are most fortunate here in Montreal to have the opportunity to attend a production such as The Monkey King Gets His Staff. It was entertaining, more beautiful than one can imagine, and refreshingly different in comparison to the theatre Canadian audiences are often exposed to. This show is appropriate for absolutely all ages, and I would encourage you to bring children, parents, friends, and even those who don’t typically enjoy theatre for a night of humour, spectacle, and fine art.

Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Fringe Contributor Madison Jolliffe

JingJu Canada presents “The Monkey King Gets His Staff”

When: June 9 – 18, 2017
Where: La Chapelle, 3700 Saint-Dominique
Admission: $10
Duration: 75 minutes
Tickets: | 514.849.FEST (3378)

Official Media Partner of the 2017 St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival

Check out our other 70+ reviews from this year’s Fringe!

Madison Jolliffe

2017 Fringe Reviewer at Montreal Theatre Hub
Madie is an active director, writer, choreographer, and performer. She is going into her last year at Concordia University where she studies Performance Creation. Currently, she is directing The Runaway Game, a show for the Island Fringe in PEI written by Leni Krivy. She is also the Choreogrepher for WISTA’s Shrek The Musical. This April she won the Colin Krivy award for Playwriting at the McGill Drama Festival. The Fringe excites her because of its weirdness, aliveness, and lack of censorship.

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