Playing on a classic

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 May, 2011, 12:00am

Even if you haven't seen her, you have probably heard Candice Moore in television commercials. Her company, Sweet and Sour Productions, has a full appointment book of voice-over sessions, and she has mastered a range of accents.

Moore has also channelled her experience in drama into role-play-based corporate training work, but live theatre remains her first love, and she stays equally busy as an actress, director and producer.

Plays in which Moore has appeared include last year's Orphans for the Hong Kong Players, and Misery for the Wordybird Theatre Company in 2009. Her performance in both received critical acclaim. She has been even more prolific as a director however, working on six productions since 2009, including last year's hit for Sweet and Sour, Sleuth.

Her latest is J.B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls, a production by The Hong Kong Players in association with the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, which both companies hope will lead to further and closer collaborations in the future.

Moore says when she directed Sleuth at the McAulay Studio, last October, the head of programme at the HKRep, Marble Leung, came to see it. Afterwards, he asked her whether she was interested in staging a play at their Black Box Theatre in the Sheung Wan Civic Centre and, having seen the space, she agreed. Next, she approached Teri Fitsell, the co-producer of the upcoming show, and then the Hong Kong Players came on board.

Moore, who is now a leading light in the local theatrical scene, settled here in 2003, but had lived in Hong Kong previously and recalls discovering a passion for drama in 1987 during classes at South Island School.

'That's when I first came across An Inspector Calls, doing GCSE drama. After that I lived in Singapore, Australia and Britain, and came back to Hong Kong in the early 1990s, left again and came back. This is my third stint and the longest I've lived anywhere, so now Hong Kong's home,' she says.

She took a while to choose her calling, but short stints in marketing, public relations and journalism lacked the allure of the stage and, in 1997, she enrolled in drama school in Glasgow. On returning to Hong Kong she established herself as a voice-over artist, and began looking for stage work.

Among her first projects was a musical in collaboration with the founder of the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation, Lindsay McAlister.

'And then she asked me to direct something, a short piece based on Shakespeare, and that was really the first proper directing I'd done outside drama school. So it was acting first, then directing,' she says.

Moore caught the directing bug but, while she continues to act, has kept the two functions separate. 'I can't do them both at once. It takes a lot of energy and you have to concentrate,' she says.

An Inspector Calls is not, on the face of it, an obvious choice of play for the Hong Kong Players or the HKRep's Black Box Theatre. It is a very English period piece written by Priestley in 1945 and set in 1912.

The play was first performed in Russia in 1945 and in Britain the following year. It is probably best known as a 1954 film with a memorable performance by Alastair Sim as the inspector, although the screenplay departed in a number of respects from Priestley's original text. There was also a three-part television adaptation by the BBC in 1982. It was last staged in Hong Kong, directed by Clare Stearns, at the Shouson Theatre in 1982. '[The play] caught my imagination because I looked up the Stephen Daldry production - which I have not seen but I found information about on the internet - and it clicked. I just thought you can do something very different with a traditional play, and that's what got my imagination,' she says.

Daldry's 1992 revival of Priestley's three-act play heightened the drama by incorporating cinematic and non-realistic elements. Having read up on it, Moore set about developing her own interpretation.

'I've never actually seen the play although it's been done a lot, but I think that's a good thing because you come at it without preconceived ideas - except from my GCSE class. I played Sheila Birling and I was 15 - I don't know how much credit we did to the play at that age. You never know. It's very well written and constructed and there is a universal theme there, which is that we are all responsible for each other.'

An Inspector Calls explores the themes of social hypocrisy and irresponsibility from a socialist perspective. The daunting Inspector Goole pays a visit to the wealthy Birling family to ask questions related to the suicide of a young girl, and it gradually emerges that acts of deliberate or thoughtless cruelty on the part of each person he questions played a part in her fate.

'Script-wise, nothing has changed,' Moore says. 'We haven't cut it at all, but the staging is different. I'm staging it in the round and the actors are finding it quite exciting not working with the traditional proscenium arch. It is quite claustrophobic, and the focus is completely on the characters. Because of the 1912 setting it's very English middle-class stiff upper lip, but with the acting and the staging it's not so stiff.

'Different choices are made with the characters as well. It is fixed in the era but without being completely traditional. There are some aspects that are surreal. It's representative, but the way things are angled and designed it's a little different.'

Arthur Birling is played by Barry O'Rorke, Sybil Birling by Jacqueline Gourlay-Grant, Sheila Birling by Alice Bretton, Gerald Croft by Nicholas Deal, Eric Birling by Hamish Campbell, Edna the maid by Lara Genovese and Inspector Goole by Howard Paley.

'Some of the cast know each other but there are a couple of people I didn't know before the auditions, so it's always nice to get fresh talent. They haven't worked together before, but they work together very well,' Moore says.

Acknowledging there is not as much audience overlap in Hong Kong as there might be between English-language and Cantonese drama productions, Moore hopes there will be more co-operation in future between local companies working primarily in different languages. Fitsell, the co-producer, who sits on the committee of the Hong Kong Players, says that while HKRep is providing the venue and technical support in this production, the two troupes are now planning future collaborations in which they will share creative input.

'I go to see Cantonese dramas with surtitles, and that makes it more accessible. We'll have Chinese surtitles with this show, and I'm hoping that HKRep's regular audience will come to see it. I hope moves like this will lead to more collaboration between Cantonese and English drama.'

An Inspector Calls, May 18-21 at 8pm, and May 21-22 at 3pm. HKRep Black Box Theatre, 8/F Sheung Wan Civic Centre, Sheung Wan. Inquiries: 9852 2668

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Playing on a classic

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