June 2014 | Applied Drama Centre BGCA, Hong Kong
I have never had the chance to see Adrian Jackson’s work (founder-director of Cardboard Citizens) in the UK, so I was intrigued to go to a performance directed by him here in Hong Kong (he is credited as Director/Advisor in the programme). I should make clear that this was one of two ‘preview’ shows in which Adrian would be acting as Joker (the facilitator in the context of forum theatre). Sorry that there is no English title of the show: it’s apparently a pun because it sounds like 嘈之巴閉 (you’re noisy) but the 巴 (baa) is changed to 家 (gaa) meaning family.
Adrian and his translator/student(?) Eddie did an excellent job of warming the audience up. The evening was propelled mainly by the force of their charisma and timing – and Adrian’s obvious experience in pushing things in the right direction.
The play presented at first was itself about 25 minutes long, and was performed with a charming self-conscious amateurishness. I say this without meaning to be condescending – these are obviously not professional actors, but their sincerity has the potential to be very powerful in its own right. There is something inherently Brechtian in the way they perform, beyond the obvious formal references to Brecht in anything proposed via Boal’s forum theatre. If you watch the characters the performers present and attempt to ‘suspend disbelief’ about the people portraying them then it could be tedious or embarrassing, but watching the real people showing the characters is fascinating as an example of the verfremdungseffekt.
This is all the more true when an unrehearsed audience member gets up to intervene. After a brief debate the second half of the evening involved the replaying of significant moments of the play (as decided by the audience). As they play out, any audience member can shout ‘stop’ and swap places with the character in order to take that character’s actions on a different course. The other performers carry on with the scene, and attempt to remain true to how their character would react to these different developments, and we see whether things can be resolved or changed.
Hong Kong audiences are notoriously passive, as one passive member of the audience complained to me. Another knowledgeably passive audience member complained to her friends afterwards that normally in forum theatre, people eagerly shout ‘stop’ all the time and it’s much faster paced, but Hong Kong audiences are just so passive. Needless to say none of these people shouted ‘stop’ or offered any opinions. I did not shout ‘stop’ myself, so who am I to judge? (Actually I only understand about 50% of the dialogue, sorry – one day I’ll be able to do it)
Some of the interventions were good, and some had to be carefully manipulated or stopped by Adrian to clarify, but in general people got very involved and came up with some interesting ideas. A lot of time was spent trying to change fairly unimportant things before Adrian guided the audience more directly to the moment with the potential to really change the story. I think this could have something to do with the structure of the play, and with more focus on the character of the mother in the performance the audience might have more easily found their way to the crux of the narrative.
Let me remind you that I am writing about a preview – and the first preview at that. The performers had not really experienced the forum theatre form with a public audience before, so they did incredibly well with very minimal guidance. I’m sure they will refine things in response to this first presentation. It ranks as one of the most ‘alive’ performances I’ve seen here – I hope their run continues to go well, and that it challenges more passive audiences.
An irrelevant aside: Things began a little awkwardly when their producer waiting at the door was reluctant to hand me a programme, and eventually only did so with the condescending reassurance that I could ‘maybe read the pictures’. Perhaps she was embarrassed that she hadn’t personally organised for a Foreign translation? I’m sure the casual racism was completely unintentional, so I satisfy myself with writing her name, which I copied from having read ‘the pictures’: 李靄慈 may Google have mercy on you.
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