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China’s Han Show Theatre Steals the Show

Take a closer look at the architectural marvel that features a centre-stage pool and seating that pivots and moves.

Han Show Theatre

You can’t miss it. At almost 72 metres tall, the Han Show Theatre glows like a giant Chinese paper lantern illuminating the shores of East Lake in Wuhan, in China’s Hubei Province. Images flutter across the facade’s 18,000 red aluminum discs: A dragon chases a phoenix, a lotus blooms, cranes take flight. But at close range, the figures pixilate into abstract colour washes that seem to sweep you beneath the lantern’s tassel-like pillars and into the theatre. As I enter the soaring atrium, where white light streams in from a glass ceiling resting on sinuous gold-leaf walls, I find it hard to believe the show hasn’t even started yet. Then it hits me: All of this is part of the performance.

Han Show interior

From the shiny crimson facade to the lofty interiors.

Designed by U.K.-based Stufish Entertainment Architects, the theatre was built specifically for The Han Show, a celebration of Han culture written and directed by Franco Dragone (yes, he of past Cirque du Soleil fame) that blends storytelling and circus. The building is emblematic of Wuhan’s transition from dusty transport hub into central China’s latest, greatest boomtown. Soon after I take my seat (there’s space for 2,000 spectators), a pig comes dancing out in Elizabethan togs, a faceless woman with white dreadlocks paces the floor and glittering acrobats leap and spin from swinging beams high above, interweaving a simple love story.

Han Show Theatre city scape

Design takes centre stage at Wuhan’s Han Show Theatre.

The fabulous characters and gravity-defying circus acts are entrancing. But then the theatre itself begins to change. The ground moves. The woman seated next to me is transported away. The gap widens as our sweep of orchestral seats splits and pivots and the balcony drops down to fill the void. Within two minutes, the audience has been broken up and put back together again, enlarged. We now circle the performance, and across the auditorium I wave at the woman who only moments ago was sitting next to me. A band of villains races across the stage, which all of a sudden appears to liquefy, becoming a roiling sea. Breaking the surface from below, a dark figure is jet-propelled over the audience. (I find out later that this unexpected 10-metre-deep pool has its own scuba support staff for launching stunts and scenery.) Fountains erupt and from high above a diver slowly tilts then plummets, just before the water recedes. Once again, the stage is dry. At the Han Show Theatre, the medium – no, the mega – is the message.

The Han Show, thehanshow.com/en

Tags

ARCHITECTURE     ARTS & CULTURE     CHINA     HAN SHOW THEATRE     HUBEI PROVINCE    

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