The first play at the performance, written by Simon Wu, is called Wolf in the House. It is set in a stormy night in Hong Kong. A university professor called Kai, played by David Tse, who has been travelling on the Star Ferry, invites back to his smart flat a young man from mainland China called Ming, played by Stephen Hoo. The blurb tells us it is the night of the ‘Festival of the Hungry Ghosts, and all is not what it seems’.
David Tse is delicately-built and fine-boned and plays the part of the soft-spoken, polite and anxious professor well. He is cast against Stephen Hoo’s Ming, who is tall, athletically-well built and rougher in manner. The whole play is set in Kai’s flat with the noise of the storm outside creating the sort of claustrophobic and tense atmosphere that one finds in a Tennessee Williams play. In fact Simon Wu confirmed this influence in the question and answer session afterwards, as well as those of Harold Pinter, Greek drama and films like Brief Encounter.
Is Ming the ghost of Kai’s dead lover? Homosexuality is illegal in Hong Kong and that knowledge adds to the tense relationship between the two men as they circle around one another, touchingly intimate at one point and jumping apart in violent anger at another. Wu tells us that the play is written and played in English and he has refrained from using any Chinese words or phrases as he does not want to break the illusion that they are in fact both speaking Cantonese. This is a different tack to the one taken by Rosalind Ting, the writer of the next play.
Ting started writing when she took a course with the Yellow Ink writer’s workgroup and was praised for her instinctive dialogue. Her debut, Journeys, tells the stories of two Chinese women living in Britain, and follows their friendship as it evolves over the years from their first meeting as Chinese immigrants working in a restaurant in Edinburgh. Their friendship endures over periods of crises with husbands and offspring who interrupt their relationship before they meet up at the end of the play on a mountain in Jackie’s home village in mainland China. The two characters – Yoke and Jackie are sympathetically and beautifully portrayed by Su-Lin Looi and Daphne Cheung.
In the Q & A session, Rosalind Ting evinced astonished pleasure at seeing real tears from Daphne Cheung as this was their first scripted reading of her play. Ting deliberately intersperses her English dialogue with snatches of Chinese exclamations and sayings to bring the characters to life and remind one of their Chinese heritage. She provides no translation because she believes that although an English-speaking audience will not understand the Chinese, it does not detract from the understanding of the sense and emotion that is being portrayed.
The small audience thoroughly enjoyed both the plays as well as the lively Q & A session hosted by director Jonathan Man, and I discovered a community that I knew very little about.
Text by Sharmini Brookes
Excerpt from www.culturewars.org.uk
China Voices, a double bill of new plays at Tara Studio, London, 25 and 26 July 2008
written by Rosaline Ting and Simon Wu, directed by Jonathan Man
Click here for more information about Rosaline Ting