Returning to the forest
by Simon Wu
AN urban landscape of alienation sets the tone for Tropical Rainforest on the Escalator, written and directed by award-winning Cheung Tat-ming and presented by one of Hong Kong's leading avant-garde theatre companies, Sand & Bricks.
The play attempts to reassess our relationship with nature.
The Earth, which had been a tropical rainforest for millions of years, is now a bleak landscape of concrete high-rises.
In a visually-arresting set depicting a cross-section of a skyscraper, five actors wait high above the world, in darkness. Gradually the cubicles they live in light up in various combinations and their characters are revealed; hypochondriac, sado-masochist, anorexic, chain-smoker and obsessive.
Later, the set pulls back to reveal a couple living at street level. They are expecting the birth of their first child and the arrival of an ascetic saint who, they believe, will save the world.
The husband is unemployed and obsessed with saving the whale; the wife is a visionary poet who dreams of the return of the rainforest to reclaim the space stolen from them by urban sprawl.
Threatened by debt collectors, they flee into the skyscraper. The play ends with the fulfilment of the wife's vision - a postman announces the arrival of the rainforest, the stage fills with greenery.
The play is rich in verbal and visual images and the moveable set effective in using theatrical space and as a symbol. Wong Chi-fai's stage design successfully creates isolated worlds bridged only by mutual suspicion and destruction while Wong Sun-keung's music heightens our emotional susceptibilities, creating unnerving dramatic tension.
The acting is daring but more care is needed in pacing and articulation of the dialogue.
Milk Ho, as the tax collector, however, displays great mastery of the satirical dimension of the text.
And, Kwong Wai-lap's death scene, coupling mime with dance, is one of the longest and most beautiful I've ever seen.
The play is well structured with references at the beginning echoed at the end, each shedding more light on the other. But sometimes the script is too abstract leaving the audience wondering about the relevance of what is being said.
Although mainly mood-driven and image-bound, Tropical Rainforest carries a strong warning of the effects of the ever-growing urban sprawl and the alienating effects of city life - a relevant message to an audience engulfed in the ever-spreading megalopolis of the Pearl River Basin. Tropical Rainforest on the Escalator, Sand & Bricks, February 24