The games people play: Theatre's new approach to writing

The New Writing Theatre Festival inspires playwrights to experiment with form and content, writes Vanessa Yung

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 August, 2013, 12:18pm

A fast-paced comedy, a female solo show and a surrealist play about local politics - this year's New Writing Theatre Festival promises to take both artists and their audience outside of their comfort zone and to challenge them with writing that is raw, unconventional and multi-layered.

"Local productions have pretty narrow topics," says Chan Ping-chiu, artistic director of On & On Theatre Workshop, who organises the festival. "They deal mainly with individual hardship, family relationships, and the frustrations of life.

"We're trying to learn from European countries, in particular England and Germany, where playwrights are always coming up with new ideas, from the language, form and structure of a script, to the subject matter, set design and directorial approach," Chan says.

"Their productions focus on social issues, and they have a universality that many local productions lack."

Now in its second year, the festival will present two original scripts and a work from overseas. Chan promises everything on show will be a new source of inspiration.

Chan, a veteran of the stage, will be directing German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig's The Golden Dragon which he says highlights a different scriptwriting technique. The work is a contrast to Blasted, a violent piece by British playwright Sarah Kane which the festival staged last year, says Chan.

" Blasted was all about using poetic and naked language in the script. That's how many think a new script should be," he says. "But The Golden Dragon actually uses very ordinary language - it stands out as it has a unique way of storytelling."

Revolving around five immigrants working in a small kitchen, Schimmelpfennig's comedy deals with issues such as race and class discrimination. The five performers have to take on multiple roles of different genders, ages and races.

This symbolises our changing situation in real life - one minute you're the one who discriminates, the next minute you're being discriminated against, says Chan.

Lee Chun-chow, who directed Blasted last year, returns to stage a one woman show by playwright Janice Poon Sze-wan titled And Then, I Float, which draws inspiration from Czech playwright and former president Václav Havel's Letters to Olga - a compilation of letters he had written to his wife while jailed as a dissident.

"I just can't help imagining what pressure and oppression the wife would experience after losing an anchor in her life, and what would be her response to the letters. So I've written seven letters from the wife's perspective," says Poon.

"I've researched many different dissidents, so it gives a bigger picture of the emotional turmoil of the wives in general. I want to draw people's attention to these neglected voices."

Poon says she wants to experiment with the possibilities of form and structure. So instead of writing a typical play with dialogue and stage directions, she just wrote seven letters, and left the rest to the director and actress Huen Sze-man.

"I've a backup plan for how it should be directed just in case the crew finds it way too liberal and says it has no direction. But Lee has been doing a great job offering a completely different interpretation from mine."

Poon adds that her play will be quite static, as opposed to fellow playwright Cally Yu Yeuk-mui's very physical work My Trembling Ears.

A social activist and writer, the first-time playwright has decided to include her vision of the political and social scene in Hong Kong in the play. Yu says the audience will notice references to events that happened in the city during the past decade.

She says she hopes her surrealistic piece about a marathon runner and his journey of self-discovery will prompt the audience to think more about society and their role in it. "The director's [Alex Cheung Ngai-sang] attempt to infuse it with Buddhist beliefs gives it another layer," says Yu.

Chan hopes a new writing archive - a website which analyses good works, and introduces lesser known overseas playwrights to Hong Kong - will inspire and benefit the local theatre scene.

"We would like to make a lasting impression. We want people to think out of the box when choosing a play to work on, and we encourage them to take a new approach," says Chan.


And Then, I Float: August 9-11, 8pm, August 10, 3pm; My Trembling Ears: August 23-25, 8pm, August 24, 3pm; both at On & On Cattle Depot Theatre, Cattle Depot Artist Village, 63 Ma Tau Kok Rd, To Kwa Wan, HK$160; The Golden Dragon: September 6-8, 8pm, September 7, 3pm, Hong Kong Cultural Centre Studio Theatre, 10 Salisbury Rd, TST, HK$170, HK$200 Urbtix. Inquiries: 2503 1630