Ming epic builds on past success

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 April, 2008, 12:00am

A spectacular story of the Ming dynasty's decline adapted from a Chinese scholar's historical tome will be brought to life again by a local drama group.

Staged by Zuni Icosahedron, 1587, A Year of No Significance was adapted from a book by the same name, written by the late Ray Huang.

Upon gaining the approval of Huang's son Jefferson Huang, theatre director Mathias Woo and screenwriter Zhang Jianwei adapted the historical account for theatre in 2005.

The group was encouraged by the overwhelming response from the public when the play premiered the following year, and decided to stage more performances this year.

The drama, comprising six solo performances, mostly retains the structure of the book.

The book is an encompassing account of a year during the reign of emperor Wanli. It has been deemed a masterpiece on the decadent late Ming dynasty.

Ray Huang argued that 1587 - the Year of the Pig - a seemingly unimportant year devoid of eventful incidents, had huge significance for the Ming dynasty. Of the seven chapters in the book, six revolve around the lives of six principal characters in the Wanli court.

Cedric Chan Ho-fung, who plays the conciliatory First Grand-Secretary Shen Shih-hsing in the play, said the book's structure lent itself well to stage adaptation.

'The vivid portrayal of the six main characters in the book is perfect for drama,' he says.

'In the play, each of the six characters will deliver a monologue in Cantonese which is 30 to 40 minutes long. As our performances are quite dialogue-heavy, it was quiet a challenge to keep the audience's attention' said Chan, who joined the drama group eight years ago.

Playing the gregarious Shen Shih-hsing allows the experienced actor to flex his thespian muscle.

'The fan-toting senior grand secretary is a bit of a clown in the play. The fan he always wields on stage has two sides, which symbolise his adroitness in dealing with people from opposing sides. As part of my preparations for the role, I tried to visualise his way of talking and his mannerisms while I was reading the book,' says Chan.

1587, A Year of No Significance will be staged at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre at 7.45pm from April 28 to May 3 with a 2.45pm matinee on April 26 and 27 and May 4. Student tickets cost HK$90 and HK$140. For inquiries, call 2734 9009.