Months of protests have taken a toll on many aspects of Hong Kong life, from mental health to transport. They may not be as crucial elements of day-to-day life here, but the unrest has also affected a huge number of shows and performances, with many overseas acts cancelling their Hong Kong gigs since the unrest began earlier this year.
One show that organisers are determined will go ahead is the annual Hong Kong Player’s panto. This is the 58th year that the community theatre group has staged a pantomime, which this year is a reimagining of Sleeping Beauty.
Director Eric Ng said the show’s future wasn’t always so certain.
“There were serious conversations about skipping this year, cancelling the show and playing it safe,” he says.
“But I think that it is important to keep panto alive, this year in particular, precisely because it has been tough. It means that the show really will go on. It means that despite all the turmoil and pain that Hong Kong has felt over the past year, at the very least, one of our steadfast traditions has still survived. The idea that, at the end of the year, everyone can get together to smile and laugh, to dance and sing, is one that should be universal to all.”
Panto is a Christmas tradition, but seldom refers to the festive season itself. Usually based on a children’s story, the plot is adapted for comic – and often satirical – effect. This year’s show is no exception, with references to news events, viral pop culture moments, social movements and ridiculous world leaders, while an all-singing, all-dancing cast of adult principals and teen chorus members keep the energy levels high and laughter constant.
Young Post spoke to some of the chorus about their experiences.
This year’s dance captain, Annabelle Leung, 19, began performing relatively late, starting dance at the age of 13, and theatre when she was 17. But she developed a real taste for it and is currently studying at HKAPA, and hopes to continue her performing arts studies overseas.
“I had always wanted to be part of panto, and finally had the guts and time to audition this year,” she says. In past shows, she’s felt that the ensemble is seen as mere backdrop, rather than a crucial part of the overall performance. “As dance captain, I feel like my job is to whip the ensemble members into shape, so that I can make sure they are seen, and admired.”
For Sienna Sophia Martin, 16, from German Swiss International School, working on the show has been a way to take her mind off less fun things.
“The most exciting part for me is, once we get the dances and the singing parts together. Then everything and everyone comes together and it is a really great feeling,” she says.
“Through performing, I gained more confidence in myself, which I think is really important for me but also for other people. Many teens lack confidence, a sad truth, but everyone’s got to find something that helps them with their confidence.”
Renaissance College student Logan Justin So, 16, is also grateful for the impact theatre has had on his life. “The performing arts have shown me never-ending possibilities ... and made me into a more confident person,” he says.
Logan, who was granted a full drama scholarship from his school, says theatre is important because it “brings people together, connects the audience to the actors, and [is a way to] express the need for change.”
Ng is excited by his young cast members’ enthusiasm and commitment, and says it makes him hopeful about the future of theatre.
“You can see in their eyes and their faces just how passionate they are to do a good job and to make the most of the opportunity,” he says. “We’ve pushed them absolutely to the brink of what we can justifiably expect, and each time they go above and beyond and impress us even more.”
Ultimately, panto is about making people smile, laugh, and maybe sing and dance a little themselves.
Sophia hopes that the show will offer Hongkongers a little relief from the intensity of the news cycle.
“I hope people realise that the situation in Hong Kong doesn’t mean we have to stop our day-to-day life and that it doesn’t mean we don’t still get to spread joy and Christmas spirit.”
In a time when life has been so serious for so long, it’s a relief to know that there is some genuine feel-good silliness available.
Sleeping Beauty runs at the Hong Kong Arts Centre December 5-15. Tickets available from Urbtix