Arts preview: The Only Stage’s The Happy Prince is no laughing matter

Vanessa Yung

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 January, 2014, 10:51pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 January, 2014, 10:51pm

The Only Stage


Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince is generally regarded as a children's story with a simple message of love. But when staged as a musical, the work becomes a huge technical challenge, according to writer-director Henry Fong Ka-wong, who is preparing a Cantonese version.

Featuring a migrating swallow that befriends the statue of the Happy Prince, the production involves a number of flying scenes and an imaginative set featuring a storybook kingdom.

That is where Fong's childhood memory of a Japanese production of The Adventures of Sinbad at the now defunct Lee Garden Theatre came in handy. The director remembers the theatre company's clever use of computer-generated animation, which blended seamlessly with the live action on stage.

To achieve a similar effect, the technical team has built the town digitally, while Jarita Wan Cheuk-yin, who plays the swallow, has spent a dozen painful hours "flying" on wires against a green screen.

Synchronising this virtual reality with live action gives the production a dimension that cannot be created by a conventional theatre set-up. "I hope that, several decades later, those who watched the show will remember the virtues and morals they learned from the story, which is enhanced by the hopefully seamless effects," says Fong.

The director is a co-founding member of The Only Stage along with award-winning composer Peter Kam Pui-tat and visual director Szeto Wai-kin.

"This is not just a children's show, it's also a reminder that adults should raise their children responsibly. What's the real meaning of happiness? You don't find that by being selfish, but from sharing," says Fong.

The director says that although the script is not overly sentimental, everyone cried when they were rehearsing the scene where the swallow dies in the snow. This is Fong's favourite scene.

"I've told my actors not to lose control. But they are right to be emotional. They can only move the audience when they are moved themselves," says Fong. "We want to evoke deep thoughts. We are not putting on a cheery kind of play."

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City Hall Theatre, 5 Edinburgh Place, Central, January 17-19, 8pm, January 18 and 19, 3pm, HK$200, HK$260 Urbtix. In Cantonese. Inquiries: 2419 9789