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Production

Moon Story

Company

The Theatre Practice and Hong Kong Rep

Reviewer

Vivienne Tseng

Date

17/07/2008

Time

8.00pm

Place

Drama Centre

Rating

****

Accessible Absurdism

I found myself warily approaching Moon Story when I found out it was performed Cantonese and Mandarin. I had chosen to review the play because its title and synopsis captivated me - and even with the linguistic barriers, the performance did indeed engage me from start to end.

When you have a cast as small as four people and a setting as barren as a subway station, you pay attention to the details. The entire set, with its yellow boxes and diagonally parallel yellow lines was reminiscent of stiff, clinical places such as the Esplanade and the North-East Line. Thought had clearly gone into its design as the ceilings of the subway platform transformed into a rooftop for a suicide scene. Now that I think about it, the sound of traffic in the distance far below was present during the rooftop scene, but it complemented the action so well I found I hardly noticed it... And in this way, Moon Story kept things simple, with sound and music always present but so skilfully unobtrusive that you focused on the heart of the story: its people.

Yau Ting Fai was most outstanding. He was the male lead who finds himself trapped in the subway, unable to catch the train or return to the surface. In this urban limbo, he is stuck with a stranger whose continual accusations that he is a pervert drum up uncomfortable humour. He turns out to be a perfectly harmless soul with a penchant for physical comedy: when bored, he resorts to stretching and mimicking runners, swimmers and other sportspeople (the high point of which is a physically taxing and utterly hilarious impersonation of an Olympic gymnast). Even simply walking around, Yau possessed a commanding stage presence that made him extremely watchable. Yet, despite his sincerity and devotion to his friends, he is an outsider, an oddity, bullied and called a pervert by the girls he longs to impress.

It was in his seamless interaction with Jo Kwek, the female stranger in the subway, that Yau shone brightest. The pair's timing was flawless yet seemed spontaneous, and the two actors moved smoothly from distrusting each other in a comic chase scene to revealing personal details in a tender moment. Kwek, in turn, is a credit to local acting, especially considering how she managed to integrate herself with the three other players from Hong Kong, and to give life to the Cantonese text. Trapped in this underground hellhole, her outwardly professional demeanour is stripped away and she is left a simple human being. And during a dinner-date flashback with her boyfriend, she shows how awkward their relationship is as they begin aborted sentences with perfect synchronisation and then lapse into difficult silences.

Ensemble member Wang Wei played the oblivious, Blackberry-obsessed boyfriend well. His unconscious pushing-up of his spectacles, his silly-boy smile and the awkward fit of his overlarge business suit clinched the role for him. But the actor becomes even more impressive when he plays another character and his gangling gait transforms into a confidence-oozing stride

There is a genre of Hong Kong comedy called "mo lei tou", which translates roughly as "no head or tail", where words and actions are carried out for reasons of comedy or rhythm, but mean nothing logically. The characters in Moon Story are goofy, and the comedy they produce is often far-fetched, reminding one of Stephen Chow's early movies. It is like watching children at a playground, except these are full grown adults in corporate suits, heels and ties. Yet, through it all, the actors bring to their performances a depth that makes us sympathize with them while we laugh.

The actors' thoroughly convincing use of non-existent props such as cutlery to eat invisible meals on an intangible dining table seemed a way of bringing form to a barren space, just as the characters feel the need to fill their own lives, however artificially.

Towards the end, the play took a turn for the serious: our couple stripped down to their underwear, relinquishing their material concerns - and then their train finally arrived. Moon Story managed to pull off this heavily symbolic and potentially comical moment precisely because it had shown us the concrete lives of the characters. We had laughed and cried with them, and now we shared in their enlightenment.

Watching the play, I found myself pondering how tight modern schedules and social mores are trapping us in narrow spaces, forcing our spirits underground. I thought about how we are always able talk to each other but rarely to communicate with each other, and I imagined how everyone around me would be without clothes: less constrained, less judgmental; braver in believing the impossible, in relinquishing the superficial.


"I imagined how everyone around me would be without clothes: less constrained, less judgmental; braver in believing the impossible, in relinquishing the superficial"

Credits

Co-Directors: Kuo Jian Hong (The Theatre Practice) and Fung Wai Heng (Hong Kong Repertory Theatre)

Playwright: Paul Poon

Set Design & Technical Direction: Eddie Lam

Costume Design: Annabel Yan

Lighting Design: Lau Ming Hang

Music and Sound Design: Yuen Cheuk Wa

Starring Yau Ting Fai (Cast A), Jo Kwek (Cast A), Jeffery Low (Cast B), Wong Wai Chi (Cast B), Wang Wei, and Rosa Maria Velasco

More Reviews of Productions by The Theatre Practice

More Reviews by Vivienne Tseng

Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.