Upclose: Hardy Tsoi
Theater director and playwright Hardy Tsoi’s upcoming play “Shamshuipo Lear” draws parallels with Shakespeare’s King Lear to highlight the plight of the city’s street sleepers. He tells Jianne Soriano what the bard has to teach us about Hong Kong.
HK Magazine: What made you decide to go into theater?
Hardy Tsoi: I started as an actor, auditioning for plays at school, and was a member of the drama society. It stuck, and when I was getting my degree in the US I took all the theater and film TV courses available. After coming back to Hong Kong I formed the Sha Tin Theatre Company in 1985.
HK: How has Hong Kong theater developed?
HT: Greater professionalism is a major change. But it’s still a bit lopsided. Theater development has been leaning more towards mainstream media. Only the entertainment value of theater flourishes. There’s also a lack of drama on school curricula. The drama elective I teach is a drop in the bucket—only 30 students take it. But I do it because nobody else does.
HK: Many of your plays seem to have a Shakespearean touch to them.
HT: I did “Hamlet” four times! And “Julius Caesar” intrigues me: The assassination story is great and the citizens are treated like dirt. I started what I call my “Shakespeare Cycle” in 2011: I draw parallels between his plays and the plight of citizens in Hong Kong.
HK: Hence “Shamshuipo Lear”?
HT: Sham Shui Po is the poorest district in Hong Kong. “Lear” in Cantonese is actually three characters, 李爾王—”Lee Yee Wong”—and there are similarly three characters in the play. Lee is based on a real life story of a classmate who died after being disowned by his brothers. So he’s actually my Lear. Yee and Wong have their own stories too.
HK: What’s your approach to the play?
HT: We’re talking realism and naturalism—that’s Chekhovian. How they face the situation and how they survive is my point of interest. Lee got a PhD in English literature. But after he becomes bankrupt he starts to identity himself as Lear. He recites Lear’s lines. So there’s a parallel. Chekhov against Shakespeare, set in Hong Kong.
HK: How did you prepare for the play?
HT: I slept on the streets as an experiment. It was pretty daunting. We were only allowed $10 each for a night, from 5pm to 9am the next day. You can’t actually sleep because of the feeling of insecurity and the general noise. I lost 3 pounds!
HK: What can people take away from the play?
HT: I’m really trying to portray the reality of the homeless situation in Hong Kong. The homeless are the poorest of the poor. What they need is family, warmth and care. I want to bring their plight to the attention of society.
Catch “Shamshuipo Lear” on Sep 11-12, 8pm, and Sep 12-13, 3pm. Sai Wan Ho Civic Centre, 111 Shau Kei Wan Rd., Shau Kei Wan, 2606-7272. $120-180 from urbitix.hk.