Reviews by Ivor Houlker

Ivor runs Rooftop Productions in Hong Kong, a theatre company known for multidisciplinary contemporary work. He trained as an actor at Rose Bruford College, and completed his MA in performance at Goldsmiths College, London.

Richard III | Schaubühne Berlin

Hong Kong Cultural Centre | December 2016

Thomas Ostermeier’s theatrical career began with the radical ‘in-yer-face’ style, staging works by Mark Ravenhill and Sarah Kane with violent intimacy. His recent work with the Schaubühne has gravitated towards more classical texts such as Ibsen and Shakespeare and older patrons are no longer in danger of fainting during performances. It would be all too easy to accuse him (as he once accused older directors) of becoming irrelevant, and to judge Richard III as less radical in the context of his earlier work. I think this would be an unfair interpretation, especially given Ostermeier’s evident self-awareness about the contradictions within institutionalised theatre. His Richard III is politically charged and makes a strong point without making crass direct references to current events. This is as relevant an interpretation of the play as I have seen; perhaps not as viscerally shocking as we might expect, but shocking in the way we are seduced by it.

La voix humaine | Toneelgroep Amsterdam

HK City Hall Theatre (HK Rep International Black Box Festival 2016) | April 2016

Hong Kong Rep’s Black Box Festival kicks off without a hint of irony, presenting a show on City Hall’s proscenium stage: an adaptation of Cocteau’s monodrama, La voix humaine, directed by the internationally renowned Ivo van Hove. It is an enormous privilege to see van Hove’s work presented here in Hong Kong, especially for those in the theatre field (who seemed to comprise the majority of the audience.)

Van Hove’s choice of material appears to echo Cocteau’s own choice in writing the original piece: an attempt to return to the simplicity and purity of a performer in front of an audience. Van Hove mentions in the programme:

Ravens, We Shall Load Bullets | Yukio Ninagawa

November 2014 | Kwai Tsing Theatre

My review for Ravens, We Shall Load Bullets will be fairly brief, because I have only one criticism to offer: the theatre was nowhere near full. There has clearly been some failure in marketing or education, because this is best piece of international work I have seen here so far, and it is so perfectly relevant to Hong Kong right now that it deserves to be sold out. It seems that in spite of Hong Kong’s relative proximity to Japan, Ninagawa isn’t as famous here as in Europe.

Watch Me Fall | Action Hero

October 2014 | Kwai Tsing Theatre, Hong Kong, New Vision Arts Festival

With Watch Me Fall, Action Hero do an excellent job of deconstructing the spectacle of risk as entertainment in a way that is playful, funny and painfully human.

James Stenhouse and Gemma Paintin are charming enough to bring us along for the improbable ride of coca cola-based daredevilry, using text that apparently comes from a mix of real interviews with daredevils, Chuck Yeager, president’s speeches, Mexican wrestling matches, drag races and so on. When we enter we’re given cans of coke and disposable cameras. The cameras are a big hit in Hong Kong, and the amateur photographers in the audience are eagerly trying to photograph the ‘big’ moments. It’s a great start and gets us involved and invested in the performance.

Attempts on Her Life | Hong Kong Rep

July 2014 | City Hall, Hong Kong

After the last performance I reviewed by Hong Kong Repertory Theatre (Wait Until Dark) it is hard to imagine anything more different than this ambitious attempt at Martin Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life. In contrast to the painfully conservative naturalism of Wait Until Dark, Attempts on Her Life comes across as genuinely progressive in the context of Hong Kong’s theatrical landscape.

The text is challenging and fractured; a collection of prose-poem vignettes about an elusive Anne/Ania/Annie/Annushka (etc.) who can be anything from a terrorist to a type of car. It is easy to interpret it as a criticism of the media’s power of manipulation of an image, but it is more than that. The mutliplicity of stories being told reflects the postmodernist approach to narrative, and it deconstructs the notion of identity as well as image, taking cues from Baudrillard. Further, from a postmodernist perspective, to perform this is a rejection of the need for the arc of Aristotelian drama in the theatre; an enormous step forward for Hong Kong. The programme mentions Hans-Thies Lehmann, Heiner Müller (spelt wrong), Robert Wilson, Tadeusz Kantor, Richard Schechner (spelt wrong), The Wooster Group and Forced Entertainment; it is clear that they have done their research (if not their proofreading) and their hearts are in the right place to make something innovative and postdramatic.

嘈之家閉 | Applied Drama Centre (with Adrian Jackson)

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.

Seventh Sense | Anarchy Dance Theatre

June 2014 | HKICC Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity

I remember the first time I was going to create a performance in a theatre with a revolve. We spent several months working with all of the latest revolve techniques, and hired a revolve designer and a group of donkeys who could rotate the revolve at a variety of different speeds – some faster and more nauseating than anyone had ever before witnessed – to create different moods and atmospheres. With only one week to go before the performance, we realised that we had accidentally failed to create any material to perform on this, it must be said, gloriously rotating platform. We did what any group of experienced theatre artists would do in such a situation, and hired two dancers to make up some contact impro on the revolve (as it rotated beautifully) so that the audience would know where to look. The revolve work was outstandingly accurate, with at least four different speeds of rotation. Afterwards when the donkeys and their handlers came out on stage they received a standing ovation, and we took our rightful place at the forefront of contemporary theatre technology.

iTMOi | Akram Khan Company

6-7th March, 2014 | Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Grand Theatre.

As a dance piece, iTMOi is the most theatrical of Khan’s performances to date, and shows a sensibility that seems to owe more to Robert Wilson than it does to even the progressive choreography of the original Rite of Spring.

In the Mind of Igor reimagines Stravinski’s Rite, with new music and choreography, borrowing from the Bible and Greek myth to re-examine human sacrifice from its inception. We begin with an incredible rasping, inhumanly vocalised interpretation of God’s injunction to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. The violence of an Old Testament god is brilliantly captured in the movement and delivery. We come to another human sacrifice, possibly echoing the Iphigenia myth, who after her own sacrifice supplants the sacrificing Goddess (Artemis?). This is a theatrical composition that is visceral and moving for its imagery and choreography rather than its narrative. The costumes and folk elements seem to be inspired by Russian (or Georgian?) traditional dance.

The Drowned Man | Punchdrunk

20th June, 2013 - Ongoing | 'Temple Studios' 31 London Street

Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man builds on the company’s reputation for brilliantly detailed large scale installation / site-intervention performances. The installation work is incredible, and worth seeing regardless of what the performers do with it.

The audience are given masks and immersed in a movie studio world of almost-American performers, fulfilling the expected tropes of the genre. It is a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and one that most of the audience seems accustomed to, rushing around after the performers, the more Punchdrunk-savvy crowding around and taking every opportunity to attempt to interact with them. This begins to grate after a while, and I found it a more rewarding experience to give up on trying to follow the performers (or the plot such as there is), and explore the installation work away from the crowds.

Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis | Maria Protopappa

July 2013 | Peiraios 260, Building H, Athens

In spite of everything I can’t help but feel a lot of sympathy for the director of this performance. She has clearly tried to do something irreverent and clever with the text of Iphigenia in Aulis, and it even gets a few laughs from the Greek audience. She is let down by poor execution, and a failure to commit properly to changing the genre. Some moments that could have been great farce are thrown away by the poor timing of the actors, and the unease with which the long sections of text fit to what should be a fast paced physical comedy. Sadly the gags are laboured and come almost like irrelevant additions to the action of their speech. It’s as though they’ve dragged as much humour as possible from the text but then got lazy with the long sections that didn’t easily match their interpretation.