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(From left) Poon Chan Leung, Anthony Wong, Louisa So and Olivia Yan in the play, God Of Carnage which will be staged as part of the Huayi - Chinese Festival of Arts 2016.

HK celebrities in gritty stage drama

Feb 12, 2016 5:50 AM

ONE thing about Western classics is that the language is very precise, says Olivia Yan, co-artistic director of Hong Kong's Dionysus Contemporary Theatre. Which makes translating the script the biggest challenge.

Dionysus is currently presenting its second Western classic now, French playwright Yasmin Reza's Tony Award-winning God of Carnage. The first Western play the theatre company worked with was Equus, in 2014. It is a 1970s work by well-known British contemporary playwright Peter Shaffer,

"What we've found is that the scripts are not only well structured, but their texts are also very precise so we've tried our best to retain every single word," she describes. With God of Carnage, the play takes place in one space, and the interactions and conversations between the four characters form the core of the whole play. Hence, there is high expectation of accuracy in language, she adds.

In the story which takes place in a living room, two sets of parents meet to resolve a playground dispute involving their 11-year-old sons, one of whom is now missing his front teeth. Their attempt to reach an amicable reconciliation soon descends into a clash of differences.

French references had to be removed so that Chinese audiences can better relate to the play. "From going through the script to preparing to rehearse for the second staging, we continued to discover new things in the script. That this line is related to another dialogue a few pages before; that this line was said to one character but at the same time meant for another character; that on the surface, this line means this but actually has another meaning if you read between the lines…when we found out how the playwright interlocks each and every word and line, we became even more careful about any text changes.

"During rehearsals, it is quite fun and challenging for the performers to explore possibilities in such a compact structure," Yan elaborates.

What she likes about God of Carnage is that what began as a small issue evolved slowly to include many important questions on life. While both sets of parents are talking about their children's issues, the four of them gradually divulge the contradictions and problems in their marriages, families, society, human values et al.

Even though this is a Western play, the issues of marriage, family, society and human values can exist anywhere, in any culture or background, says Yan.

For the adaptation of the play, the location is blurred, while it was a challenge for the team to balance providing the audience with accurate information while also enabling them to clearly understand the plot. "We put in a lot of effort for this," says Yan, who's also one of the performers in the play, along with Anthony Wong, Louisa So, and Poon Chan Leung. All four graduated from the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, and their friendship has helped generate the chemistry on the set.

Anthony Wong is of course a famous Hong Kong film actor, known for roles in Ip Man and Infernal Affairs. Louisa So acts in Hong Kong drama and TV serials and is considered the "Cooking Mistress" of Hong Kong after winning the comedy cooking show Beautiful Cooking. Poon is an associate actor with the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre and Yan is also a playwright besides being director and actor.

The group is keen to work on original Hong Kong plays which are rich in local flavour, says Yan. "But if only more can improve on their structure, language and themes - it will be a great improvement for local theatre (in Chinese cities)."

God of Carnage, in Cantonese with Chinese and English surtitles, will be performed on Feb 20 and 21, at The Esplanade Theatre. For tickets of S$27 to S$118, please book at

READ MORE: East and West clash in Huang Ying's Macbeth