Microfest

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Hong Kong theatre buffs rejoice – a festival dedicated to the fringe is coming your way, write Bourree Lam and Samantha Leese.

Some might be satisfied with the fringe theatre on offer in Hong Kong, but not Giles Burton and Amanda Raine. “To me there are two definitions of fringe,” says Burton. “I come from the West End, where professional actors learn their trade by doing fringe work. And then you have fringe actors who have a very professional attitude and it’s what they do for a living. I don’t think Hong Kong has a fringe scene as I would define it.”

Burton worked for 12 years at the celebrated Edinburgh Fringe Festival and co-founded the Prague Fringe Festival in 2001. Raine has also worked at the Edinburgh event, though the two met at the New Zealand International Arts Festival. Both are now based in the Fragrant Harbour. Thanks to their vast experience and networks on the international fringe scene, this power couple is bringing four world-class acts to town for the first ever Hong Kong Microfest.

Fringe theatre, known for its small scale and alternative plays, is popular with actors of all calibre, providing them with the opportunity to tackle adventurous works away from the mainstream – bluntly put, it’s where actors get to act. “You see how a professional performer can make something out of very little,” says Burton. “A lot of Hong Kong shows try to do too much and they forget the very core of performance.”

Burton and Raine have created a lyrical programme for the Microfest with works they know well: a rap version of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the music, movement and puppetry of One Man Rant plus performances of playwright Stephanie Demas’ The Death of the Good and Pip Utton’s controversial Adolf.

“I don’t think Hong Kong people have experienced [the contrast of back-to-back fringe theatre] before,” says Raine, “where you can transform the space and have a completely different show.”

For theatre fans, this is a rare opportunity to see these acclaimed and unique shows and we can only hope Microfest becomes a fixture in the city’s theatre calendar.

One Man Rant

Scotsman Alasdair Satchel brings to the stage his fruity puppetry – which is what exactly? It’s literal: after being fired and tossed into existential crisis mode, the title character, office lad Al Dente, morphs into a melon head with bananas for hands. “It’s a guy who gets stuck in an office job and to survive he has to use his imagination,” explains Satchel. “It just seemed to capture the sadness of the character – the shame, the weight of a melon... the banana hands are so cumbersome.”

With such a Kafkaesque subtext, Satchel’s charming, absurd mime portrayal of everyday anxiety has been critically acclaimed. He performs all the characters – Al, the boss, peripheral characters and a revelation-filled piece of shit. “The poo says, ‘I know everything that’s wrong with you because I’m the worst parts of you.’ The poo points him in the right direction philosophically.”

Rap Guide to Canterbury Tales & Rap Guide to Evolution

When you think of hip-hop slang, Geoffrey Chaucer and Charles Darwin are unlikely to leap to mind. But don’t write Baba Brinkman off just yet.

The 30-year-old wunderkind’s version of The Canterbury Tales, crowned “a hip-hop tour de force” by the San Francisco Chronicle, has not only won Edinburgh’s coveted Spirit of the Fringe award but has also been snapped up by Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard universities as a zeitgeist-friendly teaching tool.

What you’ll see in Tales and Evolution is a hip-hop performance in all its crowd-bouncing glory, and one that deals with unusually erudite, immaculately researched and original material.

For Tales, Brinkman spins each of the Pardoner’s, Miller’s and Wife of Bath’s tales into a ten-minute rap. “It’s about sex and violence,” explains the former medieval scholar. “The stories I chose have the pop culture allure of a gritty rap song or a Guy Ritchie movie.”

As for Darwin, “he’s more controversial than Chaucer, but it’s an intellectual battle that needs to be fought”. And, with remixes of Evolution’s main concepts, Brinkman’s fighting to win. “I don’t sit on the fence in the show. I definitely come down hard.”

Adolf

We usually decry mimicry, but in Pip Utton’s case we’ll make an exception. Who else would be audacious enough to imitate perfectly one of the most hated men in history?

“I think that one of the roles of theatre is to make people think,” says Utton. “I’m not a teacher but [people] should keep aware of what’s going on and how they’re manipulated.”

Utton received the Unesco Gran Prix for Monoplays last year. His dead-on portrayal of Hitler been has called terrifying, clever and a powerful force in theatre, with London newspaper The Guardian deeming Utton “master of the solo show”. It chilled one critic enough to write, “Hitler is alive in nineties Britain.”

How many times has Utton heard those accusing words: “but you’re humanising Hitler!” In the impressive 12 years the play has been running, “lots and lots and lots”, he says. “I always say: ‘If he hadn’t been human, he wouldn’t have managed to convince anybody.’”

It won’t be an easy ride – but it will be a rewarding one – as Utton wrests from audiences every last drop of horror in exposing that although Hitler is dead, fascism isn’t.

The Death of the Good

Okay, so the world’s going to shit. The present’s awful and the future’s worse. What if you could go back in time, to when the ice caps weren’t melting, when “war” and “terror” were just words, when love was free and the economy fine?

In award-winning play The Death of the Good, 22-year-old playwright Stephanie Demas confronts the current global crisis through the subject of time-travel tourism. The satire, replete with absurdist twists, features two men who take advantage of a desperate public’s gullibility to sell their time machine. “People are volatile and afraid,” says Demas. “All it would take was two guys to buy TV advertising space and say they could get you out of the present and people would wonder.”

The starkly original piece dissects the self-perpetuating paranoia into which society has plunged. “We’re taking the recession and we’re making a big joke of it,” she says. “It’ll be like a breath of fresh air.”

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