Poetry, music and puppetry combine in Cho Cho

In true Melbourne style, Cho Cho is an incredibly multicultural play. Based on Madame Butterfly, the Italian opera written by Puccini and originally based in Japan, Cho Cho is set in Shanghai, performed in Mandarin and English, and has a half Chinese and half Australian cast.

We spoke to director Peter Wilson to find out more about this ambitious international production, which features music, theatre, poetry and puppetry.

Wang Zheng (Cho Cho) and Han Xing (Puppeteer) in a scene from the opening night performance of Cho Cho at the National Theatre of China, Beijing

Wang Zheng (Cho Cho) and Han Xing (Puppeteer) in a scene from the opening night performance of Cho Cho at the National Theatre of China, Beijing

What can audiences expect from Cho Cho?

Audiences will see a bi-lingal visual music drama. The production has a strong and visually elegant design by Melbourne Designer Richard Jeziorny. The music is a mix of ’30s Shanghai jazz, pop and blues, mixed with elements of classical and modern Chinese. The extraordinary puppetry is central to the show, along with a highly talented cast of Chinese and Australian actors.

Have there been any challenges with having a Chinese and Australian cast?

There were many challenges in bringing this work to the stage. Cultural differences take time to work through and understand, and working across two languages required additional rehearsal time to allow a full understanding by both Chinese and Australian cast members. It was a fascinating process but wonderful to watch how all actors worked to support each other.

Hou YanSong ( Luo Shu),   Scott Irwin ( Pinkerton) and Du He ( Guma) in a scene from the opening night performance of Cho Cho at the National Theatre of China, Beijing

Hou YanSong ( Luo Shu), Scott Irwin ( Pinkerton) and Du He ( Guma) in a scene from the opening night performance of Cho Cho at the National Theatre of China, Beijing

Have any compromises been made to ensure all those involved are satisfied with the show?

There have been a number of changes to the script and specific cultural concerns, but we were in constant dialogue with the Chinese Producers and we were able to work through any differences that arose. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges with this work was for the Chinese composer, Chiang Jin, who had to write for two languages and find a musical style that worked both within China and more broadly across the world.

How has your work on Cho Cho differed from your work on King Kong?

Cho Cho is a smaller work than Kong on many levels. The complexities of the puppetry in Kong are huge, and working with such a large team offered many challenges. My role on Kong was that of Puppetry Director overseeing up to 14 puppeteers at any time, whereas Cho Cho has seen me take on the role of sole Director of the work. There has been more responsibility for the overall look of the show. The puppetry in Cho Cho is much simpler with only one puppeteer operating all three puppets at various times through the show.

Cho Cho is playing at the Arts Centre until Sunday 6 October.