Hong Kong: Theatre work "O You Heavenly Creatures!" to explore times past and present (with photos)

In classical Chinese literature, characters only find a way to redress injustice in the afterlife. Why should this be so? The theatre production O You Heavenly Creatures!, produced by Ho Bit Goon and set to be staged on November 16 and 17, seeks to tackle this question and more.

O You Heavenly Creatures! is a parable that brings together the Monkey King of Journey to the West and Lee Wai-leung, the tragic heroine of a Chinese opera story, as well as seven modern-day incarnations of Lee - female Foxconn workers who jumped from buildings. The theatre work explores times past and present and how the characters lived within their times, as well as the ethical and cultural conundrums surrounding them.

The social outcry of modern experimental theatre is merged with Chinese traditional theatre aesthetics in this production. Just as other parables do, the theatre work offers a quotable quote: For every one of us, there is a Foxconn, a factory in which we live. The difference is whether you are aware of the character you are playing.

For more than 30 years, stage director Hoyingfung has been using the theatre as a means for soul-searching, for reaching out to the world around us, and for going further to touch upon broader social, political and cultural issues. O You Heavenly Creatures! is his latest work of this type. Seven female performers, in the roles of the female factory workers, are assigned individual perspectives relating to one character. Together, they make up the three-dimensional woman Lee Wai-leung, thus presenting the suggestion that in reality there are myriad Lee Wai-leungs waiting to be resurrected from a drowning pool of humanity. The script is by talented young playwright Yan Yu, who is a sensitive observer of the Mainland-Hong Kong relationship. The timeline of the story begins with the Ming dynasty play The Red Plum Pavilion, from more than 400 years ago. In it, the heroine Lee Wai-leung suffers psychological and physical torture inflicted by the powerful and treacherous Ga Chi-do. Then the story travels across time to reach the female factory workers of today. A modern-day scenario is set in cosmopolitan Hong Kong, with characters hovering between tradition, memory and real-life situations.

The production will employ minimalism in Chinese theatrical aesthetics, such as by leaving blanks for the audience to fill in with their imagination, in applying formulaic concepts, and through the interaction between the music and the performers. In addition to advocating post-postmodernist theatre, the show also brings in elements such as destructuralism, reflection and re-creation in a bid to uncover new possibilities in older theatrical forms.

In this story, Ga Chi-do will be played by local Peking opera actor Liu Xun and Lecturer in Movement at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKAPA) Ng Wai-shek. The split is an attempt at exploring how this famous character in Chinese opera would exist in ancient and modern contexts. Theatre veteran Chan Chu-hei will explore multiple forms of existence in the variations of a scholar, Pui Yu. He will be accompanied by the seven incarnations of Lee Wai-leung, portrayed by seven performers from different artistic disciplines. They are modern dance artist Popo Tso, Chinese dance performer Han Mei, drama artists Lam Yin and Franky Yau, opera performer Priscilla Leung, physical movement artist Chau Ho-fan and live art practitioner Leung Wai-man. Renowned make-up artist Sunny Chan will play a corpse bearer. Chan will not only do the make-up for the seven Lee Wai-leung incarnates, but will also appear as a sagacious reminder of the now almost forgotten Romantic Revolution of the working class.

This leading-edge stage production is the brainchild of Hoyingfung and the result of two years of experimentation and collation in workshop formats. He is backed by a team that crosses Generations X and Y, i.e. those born in the late 1960s, the 1970s and the 1980s. The music is created by Generation X artists - UK-trained double bass player Lui Ngao-yuen and pipa player Mavis Lam - who will also perform live to highlight the effect of Chinese opera with a postmodern twist. The stage design and lighting design are by two Generation Y talents, Yip Cheuk-tong (one of the Hong Kong delegates to the 2010 Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space) and Bert Wong (lighting designer of the 2011 HKAPA Master of Fine Arts Directing Graduate Production La Demande demploi). Live video production will be by Lam Sum, whose works have been seen in many film festivals and short film festivals and who is a video chronicler of the localisation movement, and live sound mixing design will be by Anthony Yeung, whose sound installation work was taken to the 50th Venice Biennale.

O You Heavenly Creatures!, one of the programmes of the New Vision Arts Festival 2012 presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, will be staged on November 16 and 17 at 8pm at the Kwai Tsing Theatre Auditorium. The programme will be conducted in Cantonese with limited dialogue in Putonghua, Northern Shanxi dialect and Xiamen dialect. Tickets priced at $220, $180 and $130 are now available at URBTIX. A meet-the-artist session will also be held after the performance on November 17.

Half-price tickets are available for full-time students, senior citizens aged 60 and above, people with disabilities and their minders, and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance recipients. Other booking discounts of up to 20 per cent are available.

Programme brochures are available at URBTIX outlets or at the websites www.newvisionfestival.gov.hk and www.hobitgoon.com.

For programme enquiries, call 2370 1044. For telephone credit card bookings, call 2111 5999. Internet bookings can be made at www.urbtix.hk.