Actors plunge into anguished world of grief

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 March, 2012, 12:00am

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Imagining a parent's grief after the death of a child is not easy, especially for an adaptation of a Pulitzer prize winning play, so the actors spent a day as mum and dad to a friend's four-year-old son.

Then the 'parents' Louisa So Yuk-wa and Poon Chan-leung imagined he was suddenly gone.

'What if we were to lose him? What would happen to our lives?' asked So, who plays the mother, Becca, in the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre production of David Lindsay-Abaire's play, Rabbit Hole.

The play's parents, Becca and Howie, struggle to come to terms with the death of their four-year-old boy after a traffic accident.

To get a more palpable sense of how it feels to one's own flesh and blood, So also visited the Comfort Care Concern Group, a local counselling service for the bereaved, to talk to parents whose children had died.

'I put myself in their situation and it was a suffocating and painful experience,' said the 44-year-old actor. 'For some, the grief lasts not just a few years, but a lifetime. One woman told me that when she held the urn containing her daughter's ashes in her arms, it felt like holding her baby girl again ... it was a very powerful moment.'

Directed by Fung Wai-hang, the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about loss and grieving will open on Saturday at the Hong Kong Arts Centre's Shouson Theatre. The production reunites stage actress and popular TV star So with the HKRep for the first time since Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land in 2007.

So said she was drawn to the play because of Lindsay-Abaire's vivid and realistic depiction of how people react to trauma.

She said some handled grief by going into denial, while others tried to rationalise everything until they became emotionally exhausted and fragile. 'People behave differently in desperate situations, and the point here is there is no simple formula to ease the pain,' said So.

Poon, 45, said the play was not a melodrama. 'Just as in real life, these characters just get on with their lives, they still eat, work and sleep,' he said. 'What's interesting is that they reveal their real emotions in the smallest things they do and say, and it's through these clues you get a sense of the scale of the tragedy. But there isn't much wailing or screaming. These are just ordinary people who are trying to cope with an event that turned their perfect lives upside down.'

So said Becca was the least likeable character she had played. 'She is very harsh and unpopular, but that is who she is and that is the way she reacts to her situation.'

Long-time off-stage partners, So and Poon said the biggest challenge in Rabbit Hole was to be faithful to the honest tone of the script, and to portray their characters realistically and subtly. The pair have been multiple Hong Kong Drama Award winners and were recipients of the Asian Cultural Council fellowship grants in 2009 and 2005, respectively.