West Kowloon Cultural District

A revival's brewing for Hong Kong's tea house theatre

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 June, 2014, 5:20am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 May, 2015, 11:40am

Tea house theatre could be back on the cultural menu early next year under plans being brewed by the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority.

The arts hub is planning a series of experimental showcases that will be open to the public in an effort to revive interest in the art form ahead of the 2016 opening of the Xiqu (Chinese opera) Centre, which will feature a 760 square metre tea house.

The authority's performing arts executive director, Louis Yu Kwok-lit, said performances would be 75 minutes long and include tea and a snack. Venues are yet to be announced.

The idea was prompted by the success of two experimental shows by the district's performing arts team at the Academy for Performing Arts in March. The performances, to audiences of industry professionals, were held in a mock-up of the 200-seat tea house being built at the HK$2.7 billion Xiqu Centre. They featured Cantonese opera excerpts and a programme featuring nanyin - the "southern sound".

Yu said that when finished, the tea house would offer a different experience to the performances staged at the 1,100-seat auditorium on the top levels of the centre. "We want to offer new ways to experience the art of Chinese opera," he said.

Cheung Pink-kuen, chairman of the International Association of Theatre Critics (Hong Kong), said Chinese operatic showcases and speech singing had been popular at tea houses in Sheung Wan and the Western district in the 1940s and 1950s. A revival of the culture was possible, he said, noting Beijing's Lao She Teahouse attracted both tourists and young locals. He also cited the Imperial Granary, also in Beijing, where a 100-seat theatre hosts performances of the Kunqu opera classic Peony Pavilion. Yu said a ticket that included a Peking duck dinner cost 1,000 yuan (HK$1,255). "It will not be as expensive in West Kowloon, but this demonstrates the elegance of tea house culture," Cheung said.

Cheung, who is also the acting chairman of the School of Chinese Opera at the Academy for Performing Arts, was among the audience in the West Kowloon experimental shows in March.

He said the performances went well but "felt a little stiff … perhaps because it was the first experiment". He hoped more performances, open to public, would help promote the art form.