Angkor Wot?!

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 September, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 September, 1997, 12:00am

Angkor Wot?! Hong Kong Players McAulay Theatre Arts Centre September 23-27 The title of this Hong Kong Players' production rather gives the game away: it is a comic approach to a serious subject, the historical sufferings of Cambodia.

As the pun suggests, this is not just comedy, but comedy of a particularly British kind.

There are running gags, moments of slapstick humour and a gallery of stock characters: the bolshy workman, the bullying overseer, the dopey apprentice, the prim lady archaeologist, the brash American villain, the kind tart - a world away from the killing fields. Comedy of this kind, however, can be used as a vehicle for social and political comment. Here, irony is introduced by juxtaposing past and present - scenes from 12th-century Cambodia (craftsmen working on the king's tomb) with a present-day plan to use the site as the backdrop for a rock concert. How, the archaeologist asks, can we know what those ancient craftsmen thought and felt? This the playwright aims to show us, by linking the two worlds together.

It is an ambitious aim, which does not quite come off. The interweaving of past and present worked well in the first act, with actors from both time-frames working in the same space and echoing each other's lines. Things fell apart somewhat in the second half: continuity was lost and the melodramatic plot elements (true love transcending time) failed to convince. The climax degenerated into a shouting match and the final scene was too long.

There is still much to admire and enjoy; the cast attacked the comedy with gusto, notably Evan Blank engagingly manic as the ugly American.

The deeper implications of the theme and the real tragedy of modern Cambodia were realised in one remarkable performance - Kevin Ma as the caretaker.

Ma's moral authority on stage compelled attention, and provided a still centre to the action.


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