Sheung Wan Civic Centre, HKRep Blackbox Theatre Dec 9-18
Playwright Paul Poon Wai-sum never fails to raise an eyebrow or two with his works that abound with consistently oddball behaviour and seeming gibberish. This time he stupefies us by claiming his normality. Just as we’re almost confident that The Isle’s tagline – ‘The last work before he goes mad in the theatre – he was once normal!’ – is a misjudged publicity stunt without Poon’s consent, the playwright clarifies: “Erm… actually, it’s me who suggested putting it like that.”
“This play was the last play written before I entered into the crazy stage,” admits Poon, referring to the 17-year-old play, written a decade after his debut work. “Its style is not that crazy. I mean my later works are getting crazier, as I notice in retrospect. ‘Crazy’ is only a way of expression. The so-called craziness means increasingly breaking away from narrative conventions.”
Poon gave birth to The Isle after reading Shanghainese contemporary playwright Xu Pinli’s Yun Xiang. The Isle is set on an island inhabited by a lone woman with fading eyesight. One day, a lookalike of her estranged boyfriend arrives and falls for her. She refuses his love which would have broken her promise with her lover who never seems to be returning. “Certainly, it sounds clichéd just by listening to it,” Poon can’t help commenting, while describing this ‘conventional’ work of his.
But rest assured, Poon’s integrity as an eccentric playwright is likely to be kept intact; The Isle’s conventionality is expected to be overridden by Theatre du Pif’s interpretation. Actress and co-director Bonni Chan says: “While enjoying the journey of exploring Poon’s witty text and decoding the poetic dialogues between the two characters, we wish to find a dynamic and visual form in expressing the themes: the deep conflict and yet attraction between them and the island. Freedom and boundary, arrival and departure...”
“The script of Paul Poon carries a lot of images and metaphors,” Chan says and explains the challenges she and fellow actor Lee Chi-man face. “The moment you think you can simply speak out the lines is the moment you lose all the action and undercurrent of the words.” Incidentally, it is the bilingual theatre company’s first attempt at a local play. “This is an invaluable opportunity to introduce a local playwright and explore the spirit of his words, the musicality of Cantonese and the images projected in the script,” adds Chan.
The veteran playwright is fond of ambiguity. “I won’t have an answer [for you],” says Poon, who nonetheless finds it necessary to spell out the subtext of the play’s tagline. “Many are under the impression that my works are crazy. But I wasn’t born with [that craziness]. I’d been normal. I did do something you consider normal,” Poon asserts in his usual, perfectly calm voice. “This so-called craziness is my choice.” Such resolution doesn’t surprise us at all.
Performed in Cantonese with English surtitles. Tickets: 2734 9009; www.urbtix.hk.