Love Pings

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Eunice Tsang speaks to director Kate March and actress Muriel Hofmann on their collaboration Love Pings.

Love is everywhere, especially inside the little electronic device that never leaves your side. In a 21st century that’s flooded with a dizzying variety of apps like Facebook, WhatsApp and Tinder, there’s no lack of opportunities for hookups. But are these connections just illusions, or does that virtual flirt of yours have the potential to become the love of your life?

Based on real stories and text messages, Love Pings is an unconventional play written by Kate March, American director and founder of I AM, a production company based in Hong Kong that explores immersive theatre. “You know how when you’re messaging somebody, and you feel connected to them,” March begins. “You feel like somebody’s right next to you, as if you can touch them.” This is how technology has been so ingrained in our lives – the spaces of the virtual and real life are no longer clearly defined. This experimental play stars March’s frequent collaborator Muriel Hofmann, who recently played Lady Macbeth in April for Sweet and Sour Productions, as a modern day woman juggling multiple love interests in a world where virtual and real life overlap. We follow her as she flirts and chats with seven men in her life, mainly on the phone, but occasionally meeting up to break the bed. There’s a friendly IT guy, an over-zealous pilot, a mysteriously wealthy Chinese etc; each in some way representing a dimension of her perfect guy. Interestingly, three of the seven men are played by women, a decision which March explains harks back to the time when all Shakespearean actors were male. It works surprisingly well, and the contrast between the macho personalities and the feminine figures of the actresses contribute to a lot of the play’s sexy, cheeky humour.

March’s narrative style is an innovative and unusual one, with dialogues purely made up of instant messages. As a result, the pace is rapid, as several conversations take place simultaneously, and people go in and out of conversations in a way that can’t happen in real life. It’s something that we accept online but once imitated in real life, seems incredibly bizarre. As the actors circle around Hofmann on stage and bombard her with a constant flow of flirts, pleads and questions, she transforms herself like a chameleon, adopting different gestures and behaviours with schizophrenic abruptness as she responds to each of them. Body language becomes a tool for translating speech  – “What helps me as an actor is using physical language to anchor myself to the script and connecting all these voices coming at me,” Hofmann explains. “If each person on WhatsApp had a different handwriting, [it’s like] I’m using my body as a response to each of their WhatsApp handwriting.”

It’s fascinating to see how she links the virtual world and real world – in a space that has no physical landscape, the actors’ own bodies become all they have.
“People nowadays easily hide behind their phones in awkward situations,” says March, “You can hide behind words, you can say a lot of things, and you can be who you want to be when you’re messaging someone. But in reality, who is it behind the phone?” She hopes the play raises questions about the validity of connections made over mobile apps, and how technology has changed how we form relationships. The question is, how do we maintain a sense of reality and our true selves when it’s so easy to morph and disguise ourselves with a few swift movements of our fingertips? March and Hofmann both point out that awareness is key – “as long as you question, and are aware of how you’re consciously making choices, you should be fine”!

Love Pings The Fringe Club, Oct 8-10. Tickets: $280-$350; hkticketing.com.hk.

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