HK Rep Black Box Theatre | April 2016
Please sign here for your delivery of an insignificant life
For the Chinese version of this article, please go to IATC.
At the place I work, we get three or four large bottles of drinking water delivered weekly. They get delivered just outside our office’s back door the day after my colleague makes the weekly order. The door isn’t very soundproof, so occasionally I hear the cling-clang of the plastic bottles and cargo lift groaning as they come and go – but never the noise of the delivery guy. There are often express packages delivered to the office too. But again, they remain anonymous to me; even those few faces which keep reoccurring. Goods ordered from a distance need delivering, but consumers only see the objects they buy instead of the hands delivering them, let alone the owner of those pairs of overworked hands. Such a two-way reification in which objects are subjectified while subjects are objectified is the reality depicted in the recent local production Invisible Men, written by Chan Siu Tung and directed by Chan Wing Chuen.
Such a commercialist capitalistic society deprives the two main characters of their subjectivity. Mr. Shun Fung (SF Express Guy, henceforth referred to as “Fung”) and Mr. Sung Shui (Water Delivery Guy, henceforth referred to as “Shui”) – we can only refer to them with how they are employed, without the tiniest clue about who they are outside of their jobs. The entire setting has a grey tone, dim, crude, and lit by ruthlessly cool stage lights. The “lift” is represented on the stage by a movable grey frame, which is wrapped in cling film, entrapping the two characters inside like a huge package from industrial production. This frame is rotated during scene changes by two stage hands, rendering Fung and Shui like exhibits on display under the gaze of the audience. At the end of the story, this frame also becomes the tomb for both of them, and the cling film is applied once again, but this time as the shroud that seals their inescapable death in the island of the lift.
Despite the gloomy overtone, liveliness is bursting out mightily and colourfully from the two characters during the 90 minutes of their accident in the lift. Fung is played by Fung Chi Yau, who is vulgar, quick-tempered but strong and warm in heart, while Tang Yu Ting brings the timid, sincere, dreamy Shui into life. The two young actors portray their highly individual characters in impressive and nuanced ways. The characters’ strong presence on the stage results in a relentless contrast to the implication of their invisibility to the rest of the world. The security person (played by Wan Wai Ching) does not see them or hear their shouts for help; the lady from one of the offices has never paid attention to the face behind those hands that always deliver packages to her, and even the police officer investigating Shui’s death refuses to really take a look at the body. They are invisible from the live-feed cameras that resemble the security CCTV familiar to the Hong Kong audience in their daily life.
“Visibility” is indeed one of the main themes, and the application of cameras is more than a fancy multi-media gimmick for the play. In the first scene, a girl (played by Yip Ka Yan) is holding a camera to interview the security person (Wan Wai Ching) of the building, and the videoed image is shown on the double screens at the corners of the stage. The face captured by the camera lens will shake and become distorted whenever the camera moves to cover the girl’s response to questions. This rather humorous effect establishes the association between the camera and images on screens, and the viewpoint from the outside of the Fung-Shui incident, of outsiders such as the audience. After the association is introduced, the audience witness how the ruthless industrial gaze of the cameras annihilates Fung and Shui in their lenses throughout the play. They are two pieces of (mal-)functioning particles in this capitalistic society, and they are murdered in terms of visibility. However, the screens are also used at an obviously melodramatic occasion, which undermines the critical power of the camera-screen design. When Shui is unfolding his innermost feelings, the close-up of a struggling ant occupies the screens.
Fung and Shui are not the only unseen figures. The security person is in turn neglected by Fung and Shui, being referred to as his job in a similar manner. Another even more strongly invisible group is all the female characters. The girl behind the camera who lets the lens speak for her, the sex fantasies of Fung and Shui, and finally the office lady in black who always has her back to the audience. The sex fantasy for Fung is materialistic and stereotypically feminine, while that for Shui is a con person whose namesake is a fictional figure. I could dismiss such depiction as a degradation of females, but to be fair, it actually effectively points a finger at the true murderer of Fung and Shui. The boys owe their phallocentric mindset to the same social order that objectifies and enslaves them. They are both the mouthpiece and victim of the capitalistic machine. Shui dies after he surrenders to the seduction of his fictional dream lover, but meanwhile the plot also vaguely implies that his death could actually be attributed to Fung during their earlier dispute. Either way, the two of them are indeed killed by themselves, as Fung wraps this up by wrapping both of them up within the lift. Nevertheless, it was still great fun watching Yip Ka Yan’s presentation of these caricatures.
In comparison to the dense and powerful metaphors, the overall plot seems thinly woven with quite a few weak motivations and deliberate turning points, although still true to the characters. As a result, there is not much progress in digging deeper into the topic about the crudely ignored lives of people like Fung and Shui. The songs for the scene change intervals are American country music in style. The sense of loss in the melody and the lyrics creates very interesting sparkles clashing and echoing the plot, yet as imports from a foreign culture, it adds a layer of distancing for the audience that does not integrate with the other elements very well.
Invisible Men allowed me to enjoy myself during the show yet still enabled me to feel the sting from its topic afterwards. There are plenty of works depicting underdogs and reflecting the dark side of reality now, but only a few manage to avoid self-pity or single-sided gloominess as Invisible Men does. I guess when I go back to work and see the delivered water bottles or the express packages again, they will remind me of this show that made me laugh and sigh, and of the lives forced into insignificance by something that is too big for them to fight.
Cast & Production Team
Playwright: Chan Siu Tung
Director: Chan Wing Chuen*
Dramaturg: Fung Wai Hang
Cast: Wong Yiu Cho(▲), Fung Chi Kwan(▲), Fung Chi Yau(●), Tang Yu Ting Adam(●), Wan Wai Ching, Yip Ka Yan
Set/Costume Designer: Ip Wing Kwan
Lighting Designer: Lai Wing Shan
Music and Sound Designer: Man Kai Hei
Video Designer: Lo Wing
*With the kind permission of POP Theatre
More information about this production: Hong Kong Rep