Theatre du Pif’s devised work on Seneca’s Oedipus, with the English version by Ted Hughes, is the definition of how an experimental piece should be done with substances. Now running at Unit 12 of Cattle Depot Artist Village, The Oedipus Project is an important piece of work that hopefully inspires new theatrical presentation in that specific site, as well as new reading to the classical tale.
Theatre du Pif has always been a peculiar theatre company in Hong Kong that never cease to do theatre experiments. Since their Actors Lab in 2014, Cattle Depot somehow has become a second home for Theatre du Pif to do site-specific projects, as well as workshops that are highly experimental. Before The Oedipus Project, I have already seen three of du Pif’s workshop presentations at Cattle Depot, and they are all visceral and imaginative.
The Oedipus Project, however, is not a workshop presentation with participants. In fact, it is a personal experimental piece on the story of Oedipus that artistic directors Bonni Chan and Sean Curran has been longing to do for a decade. With that, one can see that The Oedipus Project is way more in-depth than their previous ones as workshop presentations.
With the collaboration between the couple and veteran actor Lee Chun Chow, who also directs the piece, the final presentation exudes a strong sense of sophistication and epic-ness, even though it is a one-hour experiment.
I say that it is an experiment because the usage of Hughes’s version of Seneca’s Oedipus is highly deconstructed into only excerpts that deals with prophecies and fate. It is clear that the piece goes around with this sole topic, but the presentation is beyond limits.
What I saw was a trial of different theatrical elements to show fate and destiny, and how these materials can be delivered. It is a joy to hear Hughes’s words become alive through the trio’s astounding performances, but it is also a joy to see such unlimited thought process and theatrical inventions done in such a limited space.
If one is familiar with the Unit 12 at Cattle Depot, both rooms consist a white wall situated right in the middle of each room, which divides the open space. I have seen people trying to use that wall for scenography in theatre productions, but as the years go by, the usage of that wall in various productions are more or less the same. How can that fixated architecture have a new meaning was what I always wanted to see in upcoming productions, and The Oedipus Project fulfils that for me.
Never would one have thought that the entrance of the ghost of King Laius, played by Mr Lee, can be that provocative by standing at the doorway behind the audience, and with the play of lights, showing a shadowed figure with weight. Never would one have thought that Leonard Cohen’s ‘A Thousand Kisses Deep’, performed live by Mr Curran, can be so heartfelt, while the white wall in the middle is lighted through Miss Chan’s organic yet delicate movements, along with the singing as if the song is sung by the deity.
Never would one have thought that the words from the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible can be that powerful when it is delivered in total blackness. And who would have thought that a black plastic flag waving across the performing area in slow motion can derive an image so vividly, as if Nyx, the goddess of the night, who is even feared by Zeus himself, is with us?
All these above images are executed in a way that the audience would see Unit 12, the performing space, has come to life, with live music by Chan Wai Fat, Lau Chi Bun, and Gabriel Fung.
It is a collage of theatrical presentations in tiny pieces under the concept of the Oedipus story, that after all, one is not seeing the story but to feel the story instead, to feel what it is to be controlled by a higher figure, to feel what does it mean that your fate is already imprinted.
I particularly love the parts when the actors jump out of their characters and start to talk about the topic of fate, and how fate affects them as a person and even as theatre artists.
There is one point when Miss Chan and Mr Lee sit down and have a chat over a bottle of beer, and Miss Chan says that she can only be liberated when she is doing theatre, while her real life is totally unmanageable by herself.
This is a pivotal moment in the piece where one as a theatre practitioner would ask themselves as well if doing theatre really is the only time when they can finally ‘control their fate’. Can artists control their fate? I think that is one of the important questions asked in the piece, and even though there is no answer to that question, the piece speaks for itself that theatre might be the answer.
And here is where I think that this piece can be extended into. Throughout the whole piece, the one thing I am more interested than the rest is the video of Leonard Cohen talking about his appreciation on The Mahabharata, and how he is intrigued by the philosophy that one’s life is a show because it is already scripted by the gods.
I wonder if Ted Hughes has the same fascination as Cohen does. I wonder if he went and translated Oedipus in 1968 is because of his own fate, his own tragedy with Sylvia Plath and Assia Wevill, that he sees himself as Oedipus. Would Hughes biography adds a layer to what The Oedipus Project is already discussing? And how would that affect more to the question of controlling one’s fate when one is an artistic elite? That is what I will personally like to see further.
Though it is just a treatment of a potential show, The Oedipus Project already sparks stupendous poetic vision with clean execution, that the piece itself is already a contained production of its own. In the opening night, when the three actors took their bow, standing ovation occurred, but to me, the real hero in The Oedipus Project is lighting designer ‘Sun Fool’ Lau Ming Hang, whose work never ceases to amaze me.
Mr Lau’s novelty and creativity in his domain is a blessing to the Hong Kong theatre landscape.
The usage and positions of the light bulbs and lighting bars provides Unit 12 a unique transcending feeling, which makes the lighting in the piece itself one of the main characters in the piece, probably the power of the unseen gods. If Mr Lau was going to give his bow, I would definitely give a standing ovation to him.
Unit 12, Cattle Depot Artist VillagePerformed in English and Cantonese
Closed on 22nd April 2017
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.