China Voices

A double bill of
Wolf in the House
By Simon Wu and Journeys By Rosaline Ting Tara Studio
(2008)

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This double bill of plays that are 'work-in-progress' is presented as part of the China Now festival of Chinese culture. It pairs a play about two Chinese men who are strangers meeting in Hong Kong with one about two Chinese women who are friends living in Britain to make an interesting evening showcasing two young Chinese writing in English.

In Simon Wu's intriguing Wolf in the House a university professor who has met a young tough on the ferry takes him home after the guy has been injured in a street accident. As he bathes his wounds, necessitating Ming, the guy, taking off his trousers, we learn that the professor, Kai, lives in his luxury apartment alone since the brother with who he shared it has recently moved out: a brother whom Ming looks remarkably like. On the surface it appears remarkably like a homosexual pick-up. Is Ming a hustler or just an opportunist? Is either telling the truth? What games are they playing? Wu engages in an enigmatic series of apparent revelations that seem to keep on changing the possibilities, gradually peeling layers away to what may be the truth. What do they really know about each other? It is the night of the Hungry Ghosts, a festival when food and drink is put out to honour and appease the ancestors. Through the window a man can be seen burning paper money to placate them. Was Ming somehow involved with Kai's ex-lover? Is he dead? What is really going on here? Have we identified the wrong person as being the 'wolf in the house'?

It is a play that requires subtlety and intensity in the playing and David Tse Ka-shing (Kai) and Stephen Hoo (Ming) make a good shot at it, though hampered by holding scripts (although not advertised as such, both performances turn out to be performed readings) and, perhaps aiming at this intensity, director Jonathan Man has sometimes drawn such minimalist and whispered playing from Tse that he could be playing for a camera close up rather than a theatre audience to the extent that on occasion I found it difficult to follow what he was saying. In a small studio theatre it is difficult to calculate how much is required to communicate with the audience, which (unlike the director) is hearing the text for the first time - but Man is described as a foremost director and Tse himself has many directorial credits, surely this should be part of their professional skill.

In Journeys two British Chinese women, one originally from Hong Kong and one originally from Singapore, converse with each other on journeys with each other and on the telephone and sometimes simply tell the audience about their lives and families. Again we have discoveries about lives which are different from what each had supposed, though Journeys is less enigmatic, and both plays are about need.

Whereas Wolf in the House has a strong physicality, even in this staged reading, Journeys feels much more like a play for radio, something that the production emphasises by rarely allowing the actors to look at each other. When they do they are kept apart on opposite sides of the stage, except for one short scene which gains intensity because of it, building upon the sincerity of the performances of Su-Lin Loo as Yoke, escaping from her wealthy husband and her grief over her dead daughter and looking for some closure over the daughter's father, and Daphne Cheung as Jackie, escaping another unsatisfactory marriage.

For Journeys Cos Chapman provides a varied soundscape of travel by train, bus and aeroplane, the sea at Brighton and the birdsong of a mountainside as the friends climb to a temple and one could image this being developed as a multi-media presentation with video or digital material which might include additional material about their families as well as suggestions of locations - but this is a play with little action, apart from a brief danced sequence when Yoke scatters her daughter's ashes in the sea and the ascent of the mountain which could be physicalised, and essentially more storytelling than staging.

Ends 26th July 2008

Reviewer: Howard Loxton