Review: East Wing West Wing 12

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East Wing West Wing 12 - Let It Be One Country Two Systems, performed by Hong Kong-based international experimental theatre company Zuni Icosahedron, is the 12th iteration of the series draws its comedic material from various current events, from the police beating of protester Ken Tsang during the Umbrella Movement to the musicians’ protest against the MTR’s ban on large instruments. With veteran cultural worker Mathias Woo Yan Wai straddling the roles of director, scriptwriter, and designer, this production demonstrates that the East Wing West Wing series continues to occupy an important position at the forefront of local avant-garde performance art, despite its often weak delivery and an incoherent message resulting from its lack of focus and depth.

The 100-minute production is structured into long, multimedia supported monologues with musical interludes between segments, covering a wide range of sociopolitical themes such as the China-HK conflict, domination of big business, absurdism in media, and nostalgia for the city’s cultural past. The cast of four includes Cedric Chan Ho-feng, a member of Anthony Wong Yiu-ming’s music production company People Mountain People Sea and lyricist for many Cantopop stars like Denise Ho Wan-see and Joey Yung Cho-yee. Chan singlehandedly performs many of the production’s original songs and skits with high energy, effectively serving as the show’s main pillar. Other actors offer average performances that appear weak and lacklustre compared to Chan’s colourful performance. The small cast and the individual monologue-structure also results in visible difficulty by the actors to hold the fairly large black box theatre stage space, further weakening overall delivery. The content of the monologues often resemble satirical radio talk-shows, featuring slow build-ups to mediocre jokes with shallow social commentary not helped by the show’s broad coverage of topics, causing a lack of dynamism and power characteristic of stage comedies.

However, the production’s creative effort to push the envelope of Hong Kong’s experimental theatre should not be discredited. Borrowing from RTHK’s political satire programme Headliner, the production boasts a number of impressive and meaningful creative stunts, including an amusing animated political parody of Doraemon (with the theme song’s lyrics rewritten) starring Xi Jinping, CY Leung, and Joshua Wong, as well as a mashup of Beyond’s anthem “Under A Vast Sky” (“海闊天空”) and contemporary Cantopop band Supper Moment’s “Endless” (“無盡”). A Brechtian approach to confronting social issues is also utilized, evident in the frequent breaking of the fourth wall during monologues, forcing audience members to involve themselves in the investigations conducted on stage. Also to be commended is the production’s innovative slick use of multimedia, supplementing the discussions and at times serving as a contrast to the characters’ theatrical personalities.

While its weak delivery and shallow social commentary is disappointing, the East Wing West Wing series has proven itself to be culturally important with its latest iteration, innovatively asking significant political questions in an arts scene that has increasingly limited room for political expression. Joy Ming King

Sun Nov 15

 

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