I first saw stage actress Fung Wai-hang perform almost two decades ago in the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre production The Vengeance of Mistress Yan. Although I wrote in a review that 'her acting is slightly over the top at times', she made an impression. I saw her play a great number of roles over the years, in both comedies and serious dramas, and she always delivered. However, by 2005, when she took on the lead role in David Auburn's Proof, I felt her acting had become formulaic and predictable; it was time to leave her comfort zone.
Sure enough, in 2008, Fung took an MFA degree in theatre practice at the University of Exeter, graduating with distinction two years later. Now she is back with the Rep as its resident director, and her first major directorial effort - David Lindsay-Abaire's poignant Rabbit Hole - in March was a critical success. The way she handled the devastating drama about a couple losing their only child was subtle and effective.
Her next show will be another Cantonese adaptation of a Western work - John Logan's award-winning play, Red, which Fung saw when it was running at London's Donmar Warehouse. The story about American painter Mark Rothko and his philosophy towards art and life made a big impact on her, she says.
'Part of the play is about a middle-aged artist looking back on his life and how he comes to terms with his [anticipated] decline in life and career,' says Fung.
The director says there are many layers to Red and one theme she finds relevant to today's society is how the media - and consumerist propaganda - has brainwashed us so we are losing our judgment. Is our taste being manipulated? 'How we like [something] and what we respect, these are very important issues for our generation,' she says, adding that she is also fascinated by the unconventional symbolic meanings of the colours red and black in the play. 'Here, black is not about death ... it's another colour to be appreciated.'
Rep actors Ko Hon-man and Yau Ting-fai will take on the only two roles in the play, to be staged at the City Hall starting on July 7. Fung says the two actors have done their homework, including some lessons in painting and art history, 'but ultimately, they must understand the play'.
She says Rothko wanted to reach and touch his audience with his art, and that is also what she wants to do with this thought-provoking play: 'I want my audience to take away something [meaningful] with them after the show.'