Electronic City

Electronic City (Director’s Cut) | On-and-On Theatre Workshop

June 2015 | Cattle Depot Theatre, Hong Kong

When rationality and man-made order overwhelm our capacity for control…
When connection and information deform into a suffocating sticky web that we can hardly bear…
Every individual collapses into a critical mass of mechanisation and a black hole of desire…
And the outlines that define such “individuals” become only grotesque fluctuations in the system…

Such is the depiction of our modern digitalized society in the mad world of Electronic City (Director’s Cut). In this Falk Richter play, philosophical discussion and allegation appear nakedly, as if some conference on cultural criticism had wandered into the Cattle Depot Theatre. But it is not at all out of place here: the whole play tries to find resonance between these seemingly scholarly and distant ideas and its audience in a Theatre-of-Cruelty exhaustive way, in the hope of distilling its enervating representation of the humming, hustling hubbub of our current digitalized world and pushing it to the extreme.

The overall multi-media effect was very ‘fancy,’ with some particularly noteworthy videos. Phones and other personal electronic devices were actually required to be switched off because they would interfere with the signals for the stage equipment. The set was also designed to integrate stage effects, although at a second glance one might realize that it was only a clever development of a relatively conventional one-sided stage. Blue and purple colours were applied boldly in the lighting effects, in contrast to the warm temperature of tungstens, pushing the atmosphere on stage from extremely cold and eerie to grotesque and mad. The sound effects were so organic and all-encompassing that they engulfed the audience at some times, and at others suppressed the human voice as an embodiment of the that inhuman power of the electronics.

The play demanded a lot from the actors in terms of their physical capacity and skills, and the actors didn’t fail at this challenge at all. The four supporting narrators (Leung Tin Chak, Chan Wai Chung, Wong Chun Him and Chow Wing Yan) succeeded in keeping up the intensive pacing throughout the whole play, as well as successfully negotiating between not being a specific character and maintaining distinguishable characteristics. More dynamics of narrative were created by the intentionally gender-unbalanced group of one female and three males, and I particularly like how the female actor occasionally and casually took advantage of her gender specificity. Meanwhile, the two main actors (Lau Cun Him & Mo Ship Wing,) in the characters of this couple in the electronic city, powerfully brought to life the dialectical contradictions in their personalities: they are among the nameless, faceless ordinary units in the digitalized, globalized modern society, yet at the same time distinct individuals whose primitive liveliness had been suppressed by the environment they rely so much on as beings of civilization. The director Chan Ping-Chiu chose to maintain the play at a constantly enervating plateau of atmosphere, at the cliff of breakdown, which became an even greater challenge for all the actors. It was tiring and demanding for the audience too, yet I saw it as a suitable execution for the text, in spite of some drawbacks (such as the hastily delivered black humour at some points, and submerged shockwave of a few moments when the suspense and subsequent should have created a more impressive tension.)

The script of the play includes many current issues and themes of our time, and I believe it is worth a careful re-reading and re-thinking. When the text was put on stage, things between and beyond the lines were drawn out for the audience via different theatrical languages. This is not a work that merely represents social reality; instead it has a clear stand-point in relation to ethics and politics. It raises the issue that the current order of civilization is based on rationality, but that it has gone way beyond being rational and almost transforming into madness; primitive human power such as anger and sexual drive unite again as one and the same in front of this order, yet this unity shares the same root with its counterpart. Images, narrative, outward assertion necessarily outline an individual now, and are internalized in the individual as ways of self-definition. The play doesn’t offer an answer or direction to the issues it raises; it is cut out suddenly and honestly, and hands the burden and responsibility to find the solution back to us, the inhabitants of the electronic metropolis who have already developed instinctive reaction, neurosis, and illusions thanks to the omnipresent electronic alerts and noises.

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