City Stage

City Stage: Hong Kong Playwriting in English

Mike Ingham
Xu Xi
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 284
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    City Stage
    Book Description:

    City Stage is an anthology of recent Hong Kong English-language drama written for Hong Kong performers and audiences. All the plays were written in the last ten years and so capture and reflect the fast-developing multiculturalism of the Hong Kong scene – a somewhat paradoxical phenomenon in view of the 1997 return to China Mainland sovereignty. The richness and diversity of the subject-matter, the wide range of theatre styles from the naturalistic to the highly stylized and quite simply the engaging quality of the dramatic writing, all make this anthology both an essential adjunct to the 2001 prose fiction and poetry collection City Voices and at the same time a ground-breaking, independent record of an incredibly fertile period in Hong Kong's recent creative life history. Thematically speaking, whilst all plays have their unique voice and subject-matter, it is accurate to say that the quest for personal and communal identity is a theme that goes to the heart of all present selections. The anthology is important in that it epitomizes the increasing interconnectedness of previously segregated facets of Hong Kong culture, indicating the very welcome tendency towards more open dialogue between Chinese and non-Chinese practitioners and audiences. The anthology contains the complete texts of the shorter plays and strategically selected excerpts from the longer plays. All the texts in this collection were written as English-language versions for performance rather than literary translations, although for some a Chinese-language text was also written.

    eISBN: 978-988-220-072-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    Dino Mahoney

    My life as a playwright began in Hong Kong in 1993 and for the next ten years I found myself, both as a playwright and later as a theatre critic for the South China Morning Post, becoming part of an increasingly vibrant and evolving theatre community.

    The last decade of the twentieth century and the beginning of the new century has been a time of change for both Cantonese and English theatre in Hong Kong. The 1990s was a liminal decade of shifting identities — the Westernized Hong Kong Chinese population returning to a ‘motherland’ generally perceived as being culturally...

  4. Hong Kong-based English-language Theatre
    (pp. 1-10)
    Mike Ingham

    It is intended here to provide an introduction to the topic of English-language theatre in Hong Kong as a general phenomenon, before introducing the selected plays for the present anthology. Since the late 1980s there has been a tendency away from the hitherto exclusively expatriate and British amateur dramatic ethos towards an arguably richer and more culturally diverse environment. In this more plural context, some English-language theatre in Hong Kong from the 1990s onwards appears to be positioning itself within the site of Hong Kong-cultural and cross-cultural discourse. In a postmodern and post-colonial society this phenomenon is not in itself...

  5. There Are No Innocents Here
    (pp. 11-18)
    Xu Xi

    My first encounter with English-language theatre in Hong Kong was in the mid-1970s, soon after returning home from the US where I had spent three years completing my bachelor’s degree. In college, I had acted a little and wanted to continue that interest. This led me to audition for a local amateur group, the Garrison Players. The verdict, however, had nothing to do with whether or not my audition was any good. The reason they said they could not cast me was simply this: they could not see a Chinese person acting a non-Chinese part, in English.

    Such an attitude...

  6. About the Playwrights
    (pp. 19-22)

    Born in Hong Kong to Eurasian parents and trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, Veronica Needa is at home in both English-speaking and Cantonese-speaking circles. Having worked in theatre in different capacities with Chung Ying in Hong Kong and with Yellow Earth Theatre in London, she has become an accomplished performer, deviser, storyteller and playwright. Face, performed bilingually in Hong Kong and London, is her first solo play. Veronica is also an expert in Playback Theatre.

    Simon Wu Chi-kuen, born in Hong Kong and a solicitor by professional training, has studied and worked in Hong Kong and London,...

    • Face
      (pp. 24-37)
      Veronica Needa

      Face was first performed in 1998 in Cantonese at the McAulay Studio Theatre in the Hong Kong Arts Centre. The Cantonese premiere was swiftly followed by the first English performance at the Hong Kong Fringe Club a month later, and subsequent revivals have been popular and critically acclaimed. Both performances were given under the auspices of locally founded theatre company No Man’s Land and with the direction and design of Tang Shu-wing, whose theatrical know-how and aesthetic awareness is held in high esteem in Hong Kong. The simple but effectively economical set of an upstage screen, a chair and side-table,...

    • Looking for Stones
      (pp. 38-70)
      Simon Wu Chi-kuen and Dino Mahoney

      Looking for Stones relies essentially on dialogue, almost inevitably for a radio play, but some of the play’s most poignant moments are conveyed through its monologues and temporal disjunctions, which signify the piecing together of a fragmented tale. Its high quality production and evocative sound effects demand a hearing to complement a mere reading of the script, since as a piece it is very much the sum of its parts. Nevertheless, the script is lively and reasonably authentic — within certain conventions of poetic licence. Ah Fai, the Cinema Paradiso-like narrator (based on Simon Wu himself, as an adolescent) re-explores...

    • The Life and Times of Ng Chung Yin: A Hong Kong Story
      (pp. 71-93)
      Mok Chiu-yu and Evans Chan

      Ng Chung Yin was a Hong Kong activist in the 1970s and 1980s. His causes were legion from colonial issues, including the right of Chinese in the territory to have equal official language status with English, labour disputes and latterly the democracy movements in China, culminating in the Tiananmen Square Massacre. He was an able, well-informed and persuasive columnist and editor, and subsequently essayist. The targets for his criticism were not only the British colonial administration and the trappings of global imperialism as he saw it, but also, for him, the cynical workings of the communist bloc. In short Ng...

    • Back to the Wall
      (pp. 94-106)
      Teresa Norton and Nury Vittachi

      Amid a slew of topical new works in Chinese and English, Teresa Norton and Nury Vittachi managed to produce the quintessential Hong Kong Handover play in the 1995 piece, Back to the Wall. The play was based on a true-life experience by Norton, which she recounted in her South China Morning Post column. She recalls seeing a six- or seven-year-old child lying dead on a street in North Point, and discusses her reactions and those of other passers-by, as well as those of the girl’s mother. Originally conceived as a personal and comic view of expatriate Hong Kong life, the...

    • Two Girls from Ngau Tau Kok
      (pp. 107-120)
      Amy Chan and Janet Tam

      Two Girls from Ngau Tau Kok is first and foremost a Cantonese-language theatre hit that metamorphosed into an unlikely English-language success for Radio and Television Hong Kong’s (RTHK) Worldplay in 2003. Adapting the overwhelmingly local and ethnic feel of the original stage version for the less concrete and tangible audience of international radio might have resulted in the loss of this charming autobiographical drama’s authenticity. Fortunately, the result of the trans-medium and trans-linguistic migration was not only dramatically satisfying but also in some ways rather illuminating. In order to compensate for the evocative visual qualities of the stage set, often...

    • Gymnopedy
      (pp. 122-175)
      Dino Mahoney

      Looking for Stones and Gymnopedy have local Hong Kong significance, partly because the former is based on co-writer Simon Wu Chi-kuen’s personal experience of Hong Kong childhood. Gymnopedy, by contrast, was originally an English-language play with UK references. In part, though, it became more of a local play because it was translated from the English original and performed at the Shouson Theatre of the Hong Kong Arts Centre in 1996, with obviously transposed references to local teenagers in care rather than to overseas children, as in the English-language original performed at the Hong Kong Fringe Club. While Looking for Stones...

    • The MacLehose Trail (extract)
      (pp. 176-194)
      Tom Hope and Dave Anderson

      Written at a similar time as Amah Drama, but treating the themes of Hong Kong’s social hierarchies with a wittily perspicacious blend of Wilde-like farce and social critique, Tom Hope and Dave Anderson’s The MacLehose Trail tells a distinctly Hong Kong-flavoured tale combining socialite antics, sexual intrigue, marathon walking and charity. The MacLehose Trail-walk, which continues to flourish tenaciously in the post-Handover climate of Hong Kong, is an impressive fund-raising event for a raft of charities. Named after one of Kong Kong’s more socially effective and enlightened governors, Sir Murray MacLehose, the walk takes in some of Hong Kong and...

    • Amah Drama (extract)
      (pp. 195-206)
      Rob McBride

      Rob McBride’s Amah Drama shares this characteristic with The MacLehose Trail — and of course they were both written for and performed by the Not So Loud Theatre Company — namely, strong central roles for female actors. Amah Drama, while not perhaps representing the subtlest aspects of Hong Kong’s dramatic writing inasmuch as it is something of a farce, certainly brings to stage life types we all know in Hong Kong. Blasé civil servant, Jack, can be seen as embodying a general stereotype of the complacent, overpaid, self-indulgent and thoroughly spoilt expatriate male we may well be familiar with, but,...

    • The Seventh Drawer (extract)
      (pp. 208-214)

      ‘I hate the history in me!’ states teenage protagonist Fanny vehemently in the early part of this ambitiously deconstructive psychodrama by Hoyingfung, written as part of his Theatre Fanatico series, and first performed in English in Singapore, prior to its Hong Kong premiere in 2003 in Cantonese translation/adaptation. The writer himself refers to the play as ‘a dreamscape’, suggesting ‘the absurdity of human history’. In this piece the ensemble-based approach to theatre-making, combined with an imaginatively symbolic stage design, produces a powerful and critical dissection of what the playwright sees as the fetishism and neuroses, bound up with traditional Chinese...

    • The Naked Earth (extract)
      (pp. 215-227)
      Evans Chan

      Evans Chan creates a cross-cultural ‘guide’ in the character of Herb, an American army officer and counter-intelligence corps interrogator, to negotiate a path through his dramatic adaptation of Eileen Chang’s own English version of the novel, which is based on her original Chinese text. Chang, like Evans Chan, was a former Hong Kong resident and studied English at the University of Hong Kong. The drama is framed by Herb’s Korean War experience, during which he develops an intense relationship with Chinese POW Liu Chuen, whose story is the core of Chang’s novel; later, Herb finds himself branded in America for...

    • Millennium Autopsy
      (pp. 228-236)
      Tang Shu-wing and Peter Suart

      Millennium Autopsy is the middle play in a trilogy created by a team for the Hong Kong-based theatre group No Man’s Land between 1997 and 2000. The Life and Death Trilogy is inspired by puppet theatre and other non-naturalistic modes of creative theatre, and was intended as an experimental project with the goal of extending modes expression in Hong Kong theatre practice. The second play in the trilogy was commissioned for the Hong Kong Arts Festival and designed as a multimedia performance, incorporating human actors, live music, puppets and video. Its New York production for the Henson International Festival of...

    • The Overcoat (extract)
      (pp. 238-244)
      Sean Curran and Bonni Chan

      Based on Nikolai Gogol’s celebrated and wickedly ironic tale of a lonely civil servant in pre-revolutionary Russia, Théatre du Pif’s highly physical and imagistic piece of stylized theatre reinterprets the satirical masterpiece for a modern and local audience. In the Pif version, the chronically shy and perennially downtrodden copy clerk Akaky Akakyevich’s character is faithfully depicted, but the implicit frame of reference of their version is the modern city such as Hong Kong rather than Gogol’s nineteenth-century St Petersburg.

      The plot, developed episodically from the highly idiosyncratic Gogol storytelling style, is fairly simple. Akaky, played with great skill and aplomb...

    • The Ivor Gurney Show
      (pp. 245-255)
      Piers Gray

      Piers Gray, Hong Kong University academic, respected essayist, dramatist and director and, incidentally, brother of London-based playwright Simon Gray, cuts an enigmatic though influential figure on the Hong Kong literary scene. His premature death at the age of forty-nine deprived the English-language theatre scene of a very witty and wide-ranging voice. His plays included the China-set spy story, The Twelfth Man, and a number of short pieces, most of which were set in Western locales. He seemed to have a predilection for writing about or in response to literary and artistic figures of the past, but none of his plays...

    • The Yellow Wallpaper
      (pp. 256-264)
      Mike Ingham and Jessica Yeung

      The Yellow Wallpaper, based on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s turn-of-the-century novella about a writer repressed by a patriarchal society, represented by her husband and the family doctors, going slowly mad in her confinement, was adapted by Theatre Action for solo performances in English and Chinese at the McAulay Studio Theatre of the Hong Kong Arts Centre by Jessica Yeung. As with Veronica Needa’s Face, this was a performance that was intended to cross linguistic boundaries by offering choices to both potential audience communities. The central adaptation concept was that Perkins Gilman’s semi-autobiographical protagonist, the unnamed wife of John in the story,...

    • Hong Kong: One Woman
      (pp. 265-274)
      Vicki Ooi

      This new play is the first of a trilogy of plays in preparation, recounting the life stories of women in Southeast Asia before the relative emancipation that came with the spread of more Westernized and individualistic attitudes and the introduction of a certain degree of gender equality in parts of the region. The first one presents the story of a former singer from Shanghai, who came to Hong Kong to find work and ended up becoming the mistress of a tycoon. Naturally astute and capable, she excels at whatever she does, whether singing, socializing or managing the Old Man’s financial...