The Three-Body Problem Play Adaptation is a 3D Multimedia Spectacle for the Stage

Cixin Liu’s Hugo Award-winning science fiction novel The Three-Body Problem (translated into English by Ken Liu) has taken on a new form in China: stage play. The Shanghai-based Lotus Lee Drama Studio has adapted Liu’s massive novel, about first contact with aliens during China’s Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, into a two-hour play made fantastical with the help of glasses-free 3D, holographic displays, drones, and other stunning special effects.

“The Three-Body trilogy contains not just elements of mystery, the latest technology and imagination but also depicts roles vividly,” director Liu Fangqi told CCTV. “These expand the dimensions for stage drama, which is challenging for us. For me personally, it is quite exciting to use the latest technology in theater.” According to Women of China, the 33-year-old Liu Fangqi cites Jurassic Park and The Terminator as major influences; he read The Three-Body Problem while attending university in France. In 2013, he adapted the online novel The Lost Tomb for the stage, which gave him and his team experience with special effects for the theater.

“When we first started, we didn’t decided [sic] that we have to use this or that kind of high-tech gears, just because it’s adapted from a sci-fi novel,” he told CCTV. “All the effects are meant to advance the plot and provide an immersive theatrical experience for the audience. Liu Cixin gave us lots of creative freedom for this production, but we tried [to] stick to the original story, and made only small deviations.”

The play’s opening run in Beijing, which concluded August 8, drew praise from a number of outlets for its special effects. One of the most-praised elements is the creation of a three-dimensional space—complete with the alien world’s three suns—that you don’t need glasses to appreciate. Xinhua describes how the production becomes an immersive theatrical experience:

Along with the storyline with ups and downs, the drama invites multimedia technology to showcase magnificent 3D scenes, bringing audience a visual feast.

The very scene of “three suns” impressed many viewers. People saw flaring “suns” being swept from the stage to the auditorium, “destroying the world”, unfolding stunning pictures before their eyes.

In fact, the “suns” were controlled by several unmanned aerial vehicles, with motion trail calculated accurately.

The lighting is another highlight. Hundreds of beams went around back and forth or were projected on semitransparent curtains, creating a vivid 3D world.

Women of China’s description of the production mentions the pyramid that you see on Tor Books’ cover for The Three-Body Problem:

The team employs various technologies, including projection technology and 3-D mapping.

Additionally, a huge pyramid has been placed in the center of the stage with each facet displaying images of battle scenes between humans and aliens.

To give you a better idea, check out these breathtaking photos collected by China Daily.

It’s also a rather faithful adaptation. Liu Fanqi told China.org, “We only made slight changes of the original novel; about 85 percent was completely original. But we have reinforced the personality of the characters and played down some of the science parts.”

Furthermore, it has Cixin Liu’s approval. He told China.org that “I felt quite astonished after watching the play, it is much better than I had expected. Stage play is a very old form of art while sci-fic [sic] was not born until 200 years ago. The play, as I see it, is quite a fantastic chemical reaction of ancient and modern art.”

The Three-Body Problem will embark on a 20-city tour throughout China, stopping in Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and elsewhere in the country. Liu Fangqi also revealed that he’s working on a second play based on the trilogy—presumably an adaptation of the second Three-Body novel, The Dark Forest.

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