The Cantonese satire 1841 has taken on special meaning in 1997. It will be staged next week - only the second time since it was written - at the Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts (APA). Playwright Anthony Chan Kam-kuen explained that 1841 was the year the British first declared their ownership of Hong Kong and hence 1997 - the year the territory returns to Chinese rule - is the perfect time to perform the play again. 1841 was first staged by the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre in 1985, a year after the Sino- British Joint Declaration which paved the way for the handover. 'It has been a dream of mine to put the play on the stage again and I can't think of a better time to do that than 1997,' Chan said. The play chronicles the trials and tribulations of a Chinese merchant and his wily neighbour during what is a turbulent era. The writer has altered the original script to reflect the changes that have taken place since 1985. 'The purpose was to add changes in Hong Kong which have taken place over all these years - to modernise the script and generate a more shared feeling with the audience,' Chan said. 'In 1985, the Hong Kong people were afraid of 1997. People were emigrating. Now, in 1997, people are celebrating the handover. 'On top of that, I want to tell the audience that every Hong Kong citizen should have a nationalistic feeling. Through 1997, Hong Kong people should join hands and aim for a better future for Hong Kong.' Chan, head of directing and playwriting at the APA, is directing the play himself. Thirty academy students play the 70 characters in the production. These characters include villagers, merchants and British and Chinese officials. Performances have been scheduled for April 23 to April 26 (7.30 pm) at the academy's Drama Theatre. A Saturday matinee will be held on April 26 at 2.30 pm. Tickets are $90 and $65 (adults), $70 and $55 (Society of the APA members), and $40 (full-time students and other concessions). They are available from Urbtix outlets. For telephone reservations, call 2734 9009.