A Bowlful of Kindness
City Hall, Theatre May 13-27
Possibly the most unpalatable mouthfuls of rice which the boisterous cast of A Bowlful of Kindness have ever swallowed are those they chomped on bona fide during the rehearsals. But don’t get them wrong; their comedy is actually a fond recollection of Hong Kong’s vibrant 1960s and a celebration of Hongkongers’ perseverance and solidarity, as embodied in this Chinese staple.
“One of the [subjects] that is worth writing about is the human touch in the 60s,” says Anthony Chan, HKRep’s artistic director. “There was the neighbourhood spirit: you cook the soup, I make the dessert and we share with each other. We cook together, like a family.” It is no exaggeration to say Hong Kong’s prosperity today is partly indebted to the electric rice cooker. The Japanese import had freed local women from steaming rice all day long and instead helped inject female labour into the economy in the 1960s.
A Bowlful of Kindness is Chan’s imaginative spin on the biography of the late giant electrical appliance distributor William Mong, importer of the first generation rice cooker. The fictionalised story centres on the life of Mainland refugee Bill, who struggles to survive by first stealing a bowl of rice and then later becoming an electrician. However, his career is threatened by the vigorous anti-Japanese sentiment of the 60s. Bill’s story is yet another tale being filmed in a present-day TV studio. Chan deliberately sets the play in contemporary times to highlight today’s alienated, consumer-driven relationships.
“Looking at today, I suppose Hongkongers still have perseverance. Yet as the economy has improved and family [size] is smaller, people work hard mainly for job promotion,” says Chan. “I think the struggle nowadays is relatively empty. Unlike the past, the struggle was for the family or a bowl of rice.”
Performed in Cantonese with English surtitles. Tickets: 2734 9009; www.urbtix.hk.