In the Minnan culture of Fujian, the archetypal character “Sister A Da” is a well-intentioned busybody with a fondness for gossip and a tendency to rashly entangle herself in other people’s affairs. In this story, A Da’s misadventures begin when she offers to help an injured scholar named Xiao and is comically accused of causing his injury. When A Da and Xiao then come across a lost child and attempt to escort him home, they become embroiled in a case of child abduction and imprisoned. After they escape and return to A Da’s home the troubles continue, with her son and daughter-in-law mistakenly presuming that Xiao is A Da’s secret lover.
While on the surface A Da is a comically nosy gossip whose meddling causes a series of comic mishaps, at her core she is a champion for fairness whose kindness and generosity ultimately saves the day.
In this adaptation, the pared-down cast and set design, which features elements of traditional Minnan-style architecture, highlight both the personal internal journey of A Da and the archetypal nature of her role. Starring as A Da is troupe director Wu Jingjing, who delivers a virtuoso performance that forms the heart and soul of the show.
Set during the Republic of China (1912–1949), the production weaves elements of contemporary popular culture into the script – references to popular songs and familiar vernacular and word play – allowing a traditional, universal tale to resonate on a personal level with audiences today. Celebrating the artistic traditions of Chinese opera through a contemporary lens, Sister A Da invites us to reflect on the nature of compassion and integrity.
Gaojia opera originated in the Minnan dialect-speaking areas of southern Fujian around Quanzhou. Performed in the Minnan dialect quanqiang, it remains popular in Fujian, as well as in Taiwan and among the Minnan-speaking diaspora in Southeast Asia.
As a genre, Gaojia opera has its roots in an improvised form of folk drama originally performed as part of religious festival parades. In the 17th century, these dramas developed into Songjiang opera – acrobatic performances of tales centred on the Liangshan heroes from the novel Water Margin. In the mid-Qing dynasty (mid-1700s), Songjiang opera began to incorporate civil dramas and the artistic features of Peking opera and geyangqiang (a singing style from Jiangxi province), eventually becoming the more sophisticated unique regional genre known today.
Gaojia opera is famous for its light-hearted stories, humorous tone and wide range of comic roles, including the unique role kuileichou (puppet comic), which requires actors to make grotesquely exaggerated and abrupt movements like those of a marionette. Its musical style is heavily informed by a variety of southern folk music traditions, including nanyin (narrative singing), and its fixed melodies (qupai) consist mainly of local folk tunes performed in a range of lively singing styles.