Tiananmen Square crackdown

Hong Kong drama group offers local take on June 4 crackdown

Stage 64 actress feels fewer people are now interested in what happened in Beijing 28 years ago

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 June, 2017, 4:32pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 June, 2017, 8:40pm

A theatre group dedicated to plays on the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown has removed all bloody elements from its script for the first time and instead created a Hong Kong story amid a rising tide of localism and sagging box office receipts.

The latest drama, A Glimpse of Hope, is the fifth production by Stage 64 since the company was set up in 2009 on the 20th anniversary of the crackdown.

“[The crackdown] happened 28 years ago. I think it is natural that the new generation pays less attention to it and focuses more on local issues,” screenwriter and actress Lucretia Ho said, explaining why they wanted a change from the previous format, which focused directly on the crackdown.

Voices from Tiananmen: Eyewitnesses look back to the spring of 1989

Watch: How a Hong Kong photographer took iconic June 4 photo

Support for June 4 memorial events has waned in recent years, as more people – especially youngsters – believe the city should focus on the fight for its own democracy rather than that for mainland China.

Organisers recorded the lowest turnout in nine years – about 1,000 people – at an annual march last Sunday. About 250,000 people took part in the first anniversary march in 1990. The number dropped to just 990 in 2008.

The latest play focuses on how a Hong Kong couple, who got to know each other at one of the annual June 4 candlelight vigils, faced their vastly different political views after years of conflict on a night when the wife found her husband trying to commit suicide.

“The couple represents a generation of Hongkongers who have walked all the way from the June 4 crackdown to the current polarised society,” Ho said, adding some people had lost respect for others in the process of pursuing democracy.

Ho was aware that many Hongkongers felt lost after the failure of the Occupy movement. But she believed hope lay in communication between different camps.

“Democracy is about drawing support from the majority. How can we pursue it further if we just separate or even despise those who think differently from us?” she asked, hoping the soul-searching dialogue between the couple can suggest a way out.

But their play has not so far been very well received. Only 40 per cent of tickets have been sold for the five shows to be staged from June 9 to 11, compared to seven full houses in 2010.

Sea of candles in Hong Kong at June 4 vigil despite boycott calls

The number of bookings for school performances fell to nine this year from a peak of more than 30 in 2009.

“Some just do not want to know about the story once they see the [June 4] trademark,” director Lee King-cheong said.

“We have tried to take a more neutral stance this year by speaking for both camps ... but there is not much room for this path.” he said, adding that taking a middle path may mean that both sides were not happy.

Despite the shrinking audience, Lee said he would not give up: “I think it is worth doing it as long as we have the freedom to pursue it ... to plant seeds among the audience.”

Lee said he felt insecure after five booksellers from Causeway Bay Books disappeared from Hong Kong, Thailand and the mainland at the end of 2015.

The five later turned up in mainland custody, although all but one later returned to Hong Kong.