Gay love in repressed 50s society

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 May, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 May, 1996, 12:00am

A working class love story set in Hong Kong in the 1950s, The Brothers explores the themes of self-discovery, honesty and responsibility in a homosexual context.

Two working class men meet and bond. They introduce friends to each other, a woman and a man. One of the workers, a bisexual, ends up marrying the woman while the other worker forms a close gay relationship with the third man.

Although the play is built on a series of sequences that employ different theatrical devices, its main plot develops through naturalistic narrative. The linear progression is punctuated by short love sequences set in the 1990s, using a variety of dramatic means from mime to slide and video projection.

For example there is a cruising scene in a men's changing room, filled with sexual tension, which ends with police harassment.

The most striking scene is where an elderly woman listens to a tape sent by her son, now living abroad, while peeling an orange. Instead of telling his mother he is in love with another man, he tries to introduce the 'friend' to her in a neutral way.

The speech is beautifully delivered with Pinteresque pauses and restraint. It is extremely effective in showing homosexual suppression and self-denial in Hong Kong society, while the mother, a symbol of traditional Chinese family values, is coldly unimpressed by her son's dilemma.

The strength of the play lies in its sincerity and its variety of theatrical devices. The actors' movements were disciplined and well-rehearsed but they tended to regurgitate their lines without enriching the dialogue with the necessary tension.

While each short sequence was necessary, the play ended up too long, failing to build to a climax. Some of the scenes using nude men were extraneous. The play also tended to romanticise the working class and the good old days.

The essential honesty of the play and its high standard of production is a marked advancement on local productions in this genre.

The Brothers, Conformists, City Hall Theatre, May 3-5