A Special Day

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 July, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 July, 1997, 12:00am

Playback Theatre: A Special Day, Arts Centre, June 12 For a while, it almost felt like an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, but it was a fleeting moment that passed quickly. However, like mutual support groups, Veronica Needa and her Playback Theatre was like a therapy session in getting the audience to loosen up.

Playback Theatre is actually a new form of theatre improvisation in which audience members are encouraged to relate real events and describe feelings and emotions, which are then enacted by the ensemble. The art form is also used in management workshops and to help disabled children.

This is a relatively new concept for Hong Kong, where most Chinese are conservative and not given to voicing their opinions to strangers. It is to Needa's credit that she managed to coax quite a few real-life stories of a special day - some entertaining, a few not - out of the audience.

Presented in a mixture of English and Chinese, since Needa is from Britain but has an enviable command of Cantonese, the two-hour workshop made for a warm and entertaining evening. It did not start off as smoothly as shy audience members held back but five-minute get-to-know-you session helped members of the audience drop their guard, helped along by Needa's often comical manner. Quite a few later had no qualms about jumping from their seats to tell tales about going to camp, or waking up at 5am to queue up to register for the Trailwalker. All of these were immediately 'dramatised' and enacted out by the ensemble who often drew laughter with their impromptu improvisation.

In the second half of the workshop, things began to get more serious when Needa asked the audience to describe their feelings about the handover. For the first time the ensemble was really challenged as they fumbled over some of the stumbling descriptions.

But by the end of the session, the show of hands volunteering to tell their stories had increased. As is intended, the experience is more enjoyable when there is active participation. If only because of that, Playback Theatre was an enjoyable and eye-opening experience.