Padding softens impact
IT is said that an 'uncertain' clause in the lease of the New Territories denied Britain, or the Hong Kong Government, any jurisdiction over the now-demolished Kowloon Walled City. Consequently, it became a haven for criminals, especially drug dealers and vice operators - a very different place, in fact, from what had been envisaged by its founders who built the walls to form a refuge from pirate attacks and bullying by foreigners.
The history of the Walled City has been taken by Raymond To as a basis for a musical pageant, Tales of the Walled City, presented in this year's Festival of Asian Arts by the Urban Council's cultural threesome: the Repertory Theatre, the Chinese Orchestra and the Dance Company.
Such a major collaboration sounds very grand and the scale of it was indeed so. As well as some highly impressive technical contributions, there were collective and individual performances of considerable excellence.
The Chinese Orchestra, for example, under the baton of the charismatic Henry Shek, got the evening off to a fine start with composer Cheng Ning-chi's overture. It was music that really made one sit up and listen, a quality that was sustained brilliantly throughout.
Similarly, the Hong Kong Dance Company gave an exciting virility to the opening number, as they represented the toil and sweat in building the walls and erecting a huge cannon.
In contrast to this was the exquisitely beautiful Dance of the Moon Lotus, which accompanied duets by two sets of lovers.
Guest artist Fung Bo-bo displayed great versatility in her two roles. Au-Yeung Fan-yan was equally impressive as the man who supervised the building of the wall, as was Chow Chi-fai who played one of his descendants. Acting honours, however, must go to Fung Wai-hang who played Cindy, a striptease dancer with a heart of gold.
The vast set, designed by Ho Ying-fung, was a magnificent representation of the Walled City, enhanced imaginatively by Kim Lee's lighting. Unfortunately, the Grand Theatre's stage machinery proved yet again that it is just too lugubrious for swift scene-changes.
Sadly, the production as a whole was a giant that got out of hand. It was excessively overwritten. Apart from a few key scenes, most of the others were filled with indulgent padding.
Director Daniel Yang ought to have been aware of this and carried out some severe pruning, since the show dragged on for 31/2 hours. If Yang does not have this awareness, he ought not to be allowed anywhere near a production costing around $2 million of public money to mount.
Tales of the Walled City, Cultural Centre Grand Theatre, October 21-23 and October 25-30.