A Hong Kong workover for popular French musical about a little witch

When Mohamed Drissi brought Éphémère the Little Witch to Hong Kong it first had to be translated into Cantonese

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 August, 2017, 5:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 August, 2017, 6:38pm

It may have been staged around France more than 800 times, but putting on Éphémère the Little Witch here as part of this year’s Hong Kong International Arts Carnival is still no walk in the park, says Mohamed Drissi, who has brought the musical to Hong Kong. For a start, the entire show had to be translated into Cantonese.

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“We toured around primary and secondary schools with a shorter, 30-minute version of the musical in May, but starting from January, we were already watching videos of the original French musical and translating the script into Cantonese,” says Drissi. The musical veteran describes the process as an “endless loop of watching videos, meetings, and discussing” with lyricist and vocal coach Jordan Cheng Kwan-chi and director Freddy Wong Man-ho.

Aside from the lyrics and original script, the trio had to take into account the movements and expressions of the actors in order to fully understand the context, and transcribe the fluidity of the narrative into Cantonese.

“From the moment that I decided to bring this show to Hong Kong about two years ago, it was a huge process of thinking about how to bring it over, and have the local audience understand the musical without losing the magic of the original piece,” says Drissi.

Éphémère the Little Witch tells the story of a poverty-stricken young witch and her mother who, in an attempt to help a desperate businessman with their witchcraft, are sent on a whimsical journey that goes awry.

Drissi says that when he saw the original production by Dominique Lefebvre in 2005, he was touched by the main character Éphémère’s story of unconditional love. “The innocence of this little girl, as well as her journey and growth, touched me deeply,” he says, “I hope the audience can leave the theatre understanding the journey of Éphémère, and the big message of unconditional love and self-acceptance.”

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He puts the musical’s popularity in France down to the show’s many catchy tunes and hopes the Hong Kong audience will, too, be singing the songs as they leave the theatre.

Another challenge in staging Éphémère the Little Witch in Hong Kong is to recreate the special effects – such as fire and lightning – that were a main feature in the original production.

Due to local fire safety regulations, however, Drissi’s production team had to find alternative methods to create these same effects.

“In France, the fire used on stage is real,” says Drissi, who is also the musical’s choreographer. “We managed to keep some of the features the same, such as the book that ignites in the hands of the businessman, but with large-scale scenes with fire, we had to find ways to recreate the effect.”

Drissi and his team retain the magical ambience of the original with clever stage lighting, the ensemble’s performance, and onstage interaction between actors and audience.

Éphémère the Little Witch, Aug 4, 5, 7.30pm; Aug 5, 6, 3pm, Sai Wan Ho Civic Centre Theatre,

HK$140-HK$240. Inquiries: 2370 1044