When Fredric Mao Chun-fai was invited to Israel to take part in a drama festival he expected little more than an insight into the nation's cultural scene and a chance to catch up with colleagues from the world of theatre. What struck him, however, was the sheer popularity of the theatre in Israel and how audiences are presented with forceful and honest views of armed conflict and nationhood. 'I found it amazing as I did not know the people in Israel were so keen about theatre and found the dramas very progressive,' said Mao who is the former artistic director of the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre and had been invited to Israel late last year with 60 playwrights, directors and other leading figures in the drama world to take part in IsraDrama. 'There was also diversity across the drama scene, from alternative theatre makers to more commercial sitcom-type shows appealing to all kinds of audiences. The presentations were high quality and very polished.' Mao said theatre was an intellectual 'nutrition' for people and allowed different viewpoints to be heard. 'Sometimes the more difficult the situation, the better the theatre that emerges,' Mao said. He cited one joint Arab-Israeli production at the festival which dealt with the effect of war on families from either side of the conflict. 'Hebrew and Arab [dialogue] dealt with this difficult subject,' said Mao who has lectured on theatre and directed plays in Hong Kong and the United States. 'The after-show discussion saw the actors open up more about their feelings and how they came to be brought together to perform a piece of theatre about war. Theatre deals with conflict on a human level and I think it is the ideal place to hear simple, heartfelt stories,' he said. Mao said the visit brought home to him the issue of language and identity, helping him draw parallels with the linguistic situation in Hong Kong and a dual identity of Chinese culture and western influences. Mao was also impressed by how Israelis were ardent theatregoers. Unesco rates Israel as one of the top countries in audience numbers per capita. From a population of 6million, about 4million theatre tickets are sold a year, according to the UN cultural body. Another work that stood out for him was Requiem, the last play written and directed by Hanoch Levin before his death in 1999. Mao is now hoping to get the award-winning play staged in Hong Kong as part of the Arts Festival. Levin wrote Requiem after he was diagnosed with cancer and it tells the story of a man who is being urged by those around him to value other people.