Indie troupe Theatre Horizon spent four years reimagining Hong Kong’s history—all the way from the colony’s establishment to the present day—through experimental theatre, and now their journey is coming to an end.
Opening this week, the final episode of their trilogy, Century-old Dreams of a Fishing Harbour 漁港夢百年, tells the story of the city’s most recent past, from 1997 to 2017. As with previous episodes, the performance revolves around the experiences of Lu-ting 盧亭, a fish-headed merman; according to local fairytales, these mythical creatures who dwell on Lantau Island are the original Hong Kongers.
In this instalment—titled The Awakening 大夢初醒—Lu-ting and members of his tribe will dance, crawl and writhe on a wall that protrudes in eight directions, shaped almost like the Union Jack.
“Lu-ting is now in conflict,” says playwright Wong Kwok-kui. This time, the merman embodies Hong Kong’s contradictory attitudes towards politics since the handover: “On one hand he’s cynical, he’s suspicious, but on the other hand he wants to find something to which he can feel an emotional attachment.”
“For example, when demonstrating against the construction of the high-speed railway, some young people went on a ‘prostrating’ protest… from Tai Po all the way down to Central, but older ‘uncles’ would [verbally abuse] them and swear at them, while others would say, ‘What’s the point? Politics is about power.’”
Wong has said previously that, as historical fiction, The Awakening would be the most difficult of the three episodes to write because it is so close in time to the events portrayed. History has caught up to art, and there is no longer the luxury of distance.
The opening episode was performed in late 2014, during the Umbrella Movement; the middle chapter was performed in the aftermath of the Mong Kok clashes in 2016. Since then, dozens of activists have been jailed, while others have been barred from being elected or serving as legislators.
“The things that happened in between [the second and third episodes] did not really affect my creativity… But I wanted the events to sink deeper within me before I started writing,” Wong says. He only began penning The Awakening last October, after a period of reflection.
On one hand Lu-ting’s cynical, he’s suspicious, but on the other hand he wants to find something to which he can feel an emotional attachment.
As with the preceding episode Nightmares, Theatre Horizons has chosen to stage The Awakening at the Cattle Depot Artist Village. But unlike Nightmares—where actors scuttled between two rooms, marking two historical eras—only one room will be used in the upcoming performance, to reflect the “compact environment” of contemporary Hong Kong.
The signature elements of the trilogy will remain: the mythology, the symbolism, the overall wackiness. But The Awakening cannot be a duplicate of what came before. At the end of these century-old dreams, having gone through cycles of suspicion and passion, Lu-ting must wake up—and so must we.
“This is the most self-reflective of the three episodes, in that it’s not just about exhibiting the progress of history,” says director Chan Chu-hei. “The script presents many questions, and maybe there are no answers.”
“I hope the audience can discuss their thoughts with us after the play,” Chan adds. “After accumulating all of this history from the three episodes, how should Hong Kongers view the future?”
Century-old Dreams of a Fishing Harbour: The Awakening will be performed every evening at 8pm from February 21 to March 2 at the Cattle Depot, To Kwa Wan. Still / Loud’s Holmes Chan contributed editing.