Local theatre company Theatre Noir takes bilingualism seriously. It attempts to eliminate language barriers for Chinese speakers who want to enjoy shows from abroad. Its latest production, 13, based on the hit Broadway musical of the same name, opens tomorrow and is being performed in two languages - first in English and later in Cantonese - with two different casts. There is also one performance featuring caption-and-audio description, voiced by RTHK disc jockey Candy Chea-shuk mui, for people with hearing difficulties or those who are visually impaired.
William Yip, founder and artistic director of Theatre Noir, says its aim is to ensure everyone in Hong Kong can enjoy the world's top productions. "We're a locally based company and want to produce international performances for local audiences, who mainly speak Cantonese."
As with most Theatre Noir productions, 13 features surtitles so audiences can read the dialogue.
The company asked Chris Shum to write Cantonese lyrics to the songs, while translation of the English text was a team effort, carried out by various members of the theatre company.
The show, 13, tells the story of 13-year-old American Evan, who struggles to cope with change when he and his mother leave bustling New York for small-town, rural Indiana after his parents' divorce. "He has to start all over again," says Dominant Ho Cheuk-him, 16, who plays Evan in the English version of 13. "This is about facing peer pressure, and making new friends and relationships. It has a lot to do with fitting in and dealing with puberty. It's hard to get through puberty alone."
Evan becomes friends with Patrice, his neighbour and schoolmate, who develops feelings for him. But Evan, in an attempt to fit in with the "cool" clique, shuns her, leaving her shattered. "[As Patrice] I thought I knew who Evan was," says Nicole Ng Tin-wai, 15, who plays Patrice in the English version. "I thought I had a new friend, but he kind of betrays me."
Cletus Chan stars as Evan, and Kay Cheng as Patrice, in the Cantonese version.
Hong Kong's version of 13 has more dance. Choreographer Peter Lawrence says: "In the original, there's not a lot of dance; there's a lot more singing and acting. This one is more heavy on the dancing."
Yet Lawrence has preserved the main adolescent core of the play, which captivated US audiences.
He says: "We've even thought that maybe in the future we could do some locally produced shows in English for international audiences."
13, English Tomorrow-Oct 3; Cantonese Oct 7-9; Performance for All Oct 8; www.theatre-noir.hk/13