Ray of hope for Sunbeam Theatre

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 February, 2012, 12:00am


Just as the stage doors are ready to close at the historic Sunbeam Theatre, there is a glimmer of hope that the centre for Cantonese opera in North Point will be rescued.

Chief executive candidate Leung Chun-ying is believed to have helped arrange a meeting between landlord Francis Law Sau-fai and a potential new tenant offering HK$1 million rent per month.

Cantonese opera playwright Li Kui-ming and his Prime Splendor Theatrical Troupe met Law on Wednesday to discuss the possibility of leasing the theatre.

The theatre will host its last performance on Sunday, as operator Hong Kong United Arts Entertainment decided not to renew the lease, which expires at the end of this month. Various parties have been making last-ditch efforts to rescue the theatre.

Prime Splendor's director, Yuen Hoi, said a 'kind-hearted person' whose name he did not reveal helped line up a meeting with Law, who was extremely private.

Yuen said Li, who is also a famous fung shui master and philanthropist, had been hoping to keep the Sunbeam Theatre alive and was proposing to offer HK$1 million rent per month. 'We upped the rent by roughly 30 per cent, hoping that we can convince the landlord to keep the theatre,' Yuen said.

Law acquired the property in 2003 for HK$162 million.

United Arts last renewed the lease in 2009 for a monthly rent HK$698,000. The Home Affairs Bureau injected HK$3.6 million into the Arts Development Council in 2009 to subsidise the troupe's rent of the theatre.

Yuen said it was the first time Li and his company had sat down with Law and expressed their views over the privately run theatre - the last one of its kind in Hong Kong.

'But there's no conclusion yet,' Yuen said. He did not comment on the landlord's attitude towards the proposal.

Leung serves as a consultant for Cantonese opera industry organisation the Chinese Artists Association, and is understood to have put Li and Law in touch about saving the Sunbeam Theatre. Leung's publicist declined to comment on this.

The former Executive Council convenor has faced questions about a claim that he failed to declare a business connection with one of the contestants in a West Kowloon arts hub design competition when he was on the judging panel a decade ago. (The entries were anonymous.)

Law's office did not comment on the meeting either, saying that no final decision on the fate of the Sunbeam Theatre had been made, but there might be some news towards the end of next week.

Various parties have been pulling every string they can to rescue the 40-year-old theatre. Association chief executive Alisa Shum Kam-sin said its chairwoman Liza Wang Ming-chun had recently written to Home Affairs chief Tsang Tak-sing.

'[Wang] expressed concern over how government venues can accommodate some 140 days of local troupes' performances at Sunbeam after its closure,' Shum said.

The Home Affairs Bureau insisted that United Arts' decision not to renew the lease had nothing to do with the government and contingency measures had been implemented to provide an alternative venue for opera troupes after Sunbeam's closure.

The West Kowloon Cultural District said it would soon start the design consultant selection process for the Xiqu Centre, which will cater to local arts traditions, and be ready by 2015.