YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN | Hong Kong, HKAPA, Drama Theatre

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Based on Charles M. Schulz iconic comic strip about Snoopy and the “Peanuts” gang, this 1967 musical revue created by Clark Gesner and the original company has won a slew of awards over the years, including a successful run on Broadway. This is just a graduate showcase for the School of Drama Bachelor of Fine Arts students, but boy, you’d never know it: it plays like a professional version.

Despite the quintessentially American trappings with Thanksgiving and little league baseball, it is amazing how this musical takes on new meaning in Hong Kong. With a new Cantonese translation (Wong Cho-lam, Li Wing-hong), there are lots of fun updates like a reference to “Baby Shark” instead of “Frère Jacques”. Even accidentally, in Cantonese, Snoopy’s imaginary fight against “The Red Baron” takes on connotations of the fight against a “red” communist regime. But really, the central themes of school-bred anxiety in children, and “Give me a child till he’s seven, and I will show you the man”, are universal.

Though ostensibly a cast of “actors who sing”, as opposed to musical theatre students, the quality of the vocal ensemble, not to mention electrifying choreography (Tony Wong), is already professional standard.

The cartoon, cardboard-cutout set (Siu Jiou) is a huge part of the action, with a row of portholes serving as everything from traffic lights to Charlie Brown’s (Kwong Oon-hin) anxiety, shown through massive eyes shifting left and right. Get a ticket to the next graduate showcase; you might just be seeing the stars of tomorrow.

Follow the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts online.

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THE CONVERT | London, Above The Stag Theatre

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Ben Kavanagh’s chilling new play explores the resources we need to endure catastrophe through an alternate reality where our greatest fears are endemic and enduring.

***

You said The Convert is the “maddest” thing you’ve ever written. Is it really?

I think so. I mean, it feels very much like a play that exists in an alternate world, both in terms of its actual content, and also its form and structure. There’s only three characters, but there’s constant references to a wider society which gives it this epic feel. It’s also got some pretty dramatic set pieces, but I won’t ruin it with spoilers!

How did the project come about?

The play is part of a larger season at the Above The Stag Theatre — the UK’s only full time LBGTQ+ theatre — called CONTACT, which is essentially a festival of new and challenging work. Each company has been given free rehearsal space and a five-night run to realise their ideas and bring them to the stage. I’m thrilled to be back working with director Gene David Kirk, whose previous work at the Stag has been particularly successful, and with us for the journey are two extremely talented actors in James Phoon and Olly Roy — it’s an exciting prospect going back into the rehearsal room with such a strong team.

Why gay conversion therapy?

In fact, The Convert started life as a monologue in BODY POLITIC. Gene approached me about the season at the Stag in March of 2021, and asked if I had any ideas: I suggested this monologue could have the dramatic potential for expanding into a full-length play. As we chatted, the world of the monologue seemed to blend perfectly with a conversation that was being had in the wider media at the time, the legislating against gay conversion therapy – i.e. the ridiculous time it was taking to ban it!

What can audiences expect on the night?

I know the main thrust of the play is set against the backdrop of conversion therapy, but I think, like all good theatre, at its root, it’s a play about love, and in particular, enduring love. So I’d certainly expect that. As for the rest – well, we’ve not started rehearsals yet, and the entire play could be rewritten after the first day of rehearsals, as is so often the case. So much of the writing process relies on hearing the actors speak the lines, and gaining the insight of the director in how the story is coming together – as a writer, sometimes you are too close to the play to have that kind of perspective. Collaboration breeds a kind of openness in the room that nearly always results in a clearer direction for the story. It’s thrilling! They say good plays aren’t written, they are rewritten; well, if that’s the case then sign me up!

Playing 23 – 27 June 2021 at the Above The Stag Theatre in Vauxhall.

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MATCHES 球賽 | Hong Kong, Cultural Centre (online)

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Y-Space’s innovative sport dance show, “Matches”, was scheduled to take over the Hong Kong Cultural Centre from April to December 2020, but the live performance was still impossible due to the pandemic. Fortunately for us, this coliseum-like, game-influenced dance piece is now available to stream online as a “Director’s Edition”.

In order to let audiences have a more comprehensive, deeper experience with “Matches”, the Director’s Edition retains the superb performances of the performers, with a clearer concept and a more intense atmosphere. Those who have watched the show already will be able to recall the impact of “Matches”; while newcomers have a brand new chance to experience it.

Y-Space was founded in 1995 by Victor Choi-wo Ma and Mandy Ming-yin Yim in Hong Kong, with the mission of exploring the infinite possibilities of dance, and searching for new dance idioms and new artistic directions. Now in its 18th year, Y-Space has become an important arts group on the Hong Kong contemporary dance through creating new work, promoting dance and providing training, education and research work through activities conducted at community level and at the Y-Space Dance Studio.

As for the show itself: “The game is fair,” they say. Rules are written; the game is changing. Who will win? Who will lose? And, at the end; who decides?

Available for online streaming until 1 March 2021.

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A CHRISTMAS CAROL | London, Dominion Theatre

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The critically acclaimed concert production of Alan Menken’s A Christmas Carol (1994), with the London Musical Theatre Orchestra (LMTO), is back on the West End for the fourth year. A soaring Broadway score, the fantastic sounds of a 24-piece LMTO, and a brilliant all-star cast: ​A Christmas Carol ​is perfect family entertainment for the holiday season.

Dickens’ classic festive tale has a brilliant cast this year, starring actor and comedian Brian Conley​ (​9 to 5: The Musical​) as Ebenezer Scrooge, who leads an ensemble cast of over fifty, including ​Jacqueline Jossa​ (EastEnders​), Busted’s ​Matt Willis​, ​Lucie Jones (Waitress​) and ​Sandra Marvin​ (Waitress, Hairspray​).

The creative team could not be more glittering, either. Music is by ​Alan Menken​ (Disney’s ​The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast), with lyrics by Lynne Ahrens​ (​Ragtime, Anastasia​), and a book by ​Mike Ockrent​ (​Crazy For You​). Fresh from directing LMTO’s Candide​, Shaun Kerrison directs, with musical staging by ​Tim Jackson. Sound design is by ​Nick Lidster​ for Autograph, design is by ​Dora Schweitzer​, lighting design is by ​Mike Robertson​, and projection design is by ​George Reeve.

In line with the latest government guidelines, ​the Dominion Theatre is partnered with the Society of London Theatre’s “​See it Safely”​ campaign. The production will be COVID secure, with measures including face masks, distanced seating, temperature checking, contactless ticketing, social distancing, cashless payment, enhanced cleaning, and sanitiser stations.

Playing in the West End 7 December 2020 to 2 January 2021 at the Dominion Theatre.

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HK BALLET SEASON 2020/2021 | Hong Kong

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Don Quixote | Li Lin and Hong Kong Ballet Dancers | Photographer: Conrad Dy-Liacco | Courtesy of Hong Kong Ballet

We could not be more thrilled that Hong Kong Ballet, Asia’s premier ballet company, is pirouetting, glissading and jetéing back into live performance starting 30 October 2020.

This new season is bursting with classics, including: Don Quixote (30 October 2020); The Nutcracker (18 December 2020); Artistic Director Septime Webre’s Ballet Classics for Children: Cinderella, featuring a stripped-down and narrated version of Prokofiev’s score (30 January 2021); Balanchine’s Jewels (21 May 2021); and Septime Webre’s new Romeo + Juliet, with the Hong Kong Sinfonietta on Prokofiev’s iconic score (18 June 2021).

In addition, Hong Kong Ballet will be running turn(it)out festival for two weeks at West Kowloon Cultural District’s Freespace, kicking off with an opening gala on 29 January 2021. The Vivaldi / Handel Project follows on 5 February 2021, along with a ton of interactive, family-friendly activities and events throughout the two weeks.

Artistic Director Septime Webre says that the central theme for the new season is, quite simply, love: “The word “love” infuses absolutely everything at Hong Kong Ballet: love of being a dance artist, and love for our amazing city, which has seen and experienced so much this past year. Love fuels the dedicated work we do, and drives the innovative ways we engage with the community. Love is not about getting – it’s about giving.” Well, we certainly cannot wait to celebrate this love for ballet in Hong Kong again.

Read Hong Kong Ballet’s new brochure and get booking.

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XIN LI: SURE THINGS | Hong Kong, Mihn 宀 Gallery

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This free, one-night micro-exhibition of ten photo prints is typical of Mihn 宀 Gallery’s edgy, pop-up art space. It’s Xin Li’s first ever solo-exibition, but the Norwegian photographer’s distinctive style belies her years. She describes the slightly comical still-lifes as “self-portraits”: despite being photographed years apart from each other, there is a cohesiveness to this collection, hung from a central circular rail like socks on a washing line.

It’s clear to see Xin Li returning to her Chinese heritage in “Sweet Tooth”, with traditional Chinese coins packed into a grey, unappetising plate of jelly in a darkened room. Elsewhere, fine china chopsticks, and a face mask covered in kids’ plastic gems, also show us a kitschy, Asian aesthetic.

Mihn 宀 Gallery was established just a year and a half ago in October 2018, but the exhibitions are clearly popular with Hong Kong’s artsy crowd. Their goal is to provide an accessible and autonomous platform for emerging artists to exhibit and sell their work. The name “Mihn” (宀) derives from Chinese Radical 40, signifying a “roof”.

The gallery itself works out of a small hipster night-club on the fourth floor of a building in Sheung Wan, with the DJ booth occupying slightly more space than the artist’s own work. Exhibitions are free, with a reasonably-priced bar open to all. ADSL by PABO (aka Julien Pradier) is coming up next week, promising some pop-art style, computer-generated offerings.

Follow Mihn 宀 Gallery on Instagram.

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THE RIVER RUNNER | London, Streatham Space

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Glimmer Theatre’s exciting new family show comes back to London’s Streatham Space this February half term, for eight performances only, promising ice skating, magic and adventure – brought to life with stirring live music, and Glimmer Theatre’s trademark beautiful imagery, inspired by “A Rich Theatre by Little Means”.

Co-artistic director Sophie Crawford, who has also composed the show’s live music, most recently appeared in Warhorse and Amélie in the West End. She chalks the show’s success down to the passion of the whole company: “We are passionate about creating family theatre with an inspiring message,” she says. “I think it introduces children to characters and places they might never have encountered before.”

Co-artistic director and designer Andy Brock agrees: “The show is very entertaining, and rehearsals have been extremely playful, which I think comes through in performance, too. But at its core, The River Runner is a story about a strong young woman, who uses her talent and skill to change the world around her.”

It’s 1901 in Isleham village, Cambridgeshire, and Annabelle Howgego is the best ice skater for miles around. With metal skates strapped to her boots, Annabelle casts off her dull life as a scullery maid, and becomes a champion skater. But this year, something rises up from the frozen river, and sends the village into chaos. It’s down to Annabelle to save her village and solve the mystery of what lurks beneath the ice.

You can read our review of the show here.

The River Runner will be skating back into Streatham Space 20 – 23 February 2020.

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TITANIC: THE MUSICAL | Hong Kong, HKAPA Drama Theatre

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“We spent a really, really long time — much longer than any other show before — trying to work out the set design,” explains director Candice Caalsen, who is directing a cast of forty-two adults for the “Face Productions“ performances, and a cast of a hundred children aged 8-18 for the “Face Academy“ performances of this epic musical. “Of course, we didn’t want to make a boat, and then try and sink it. We’ve gone a bit more abstract.”

The five-time Tony award-winning 1997 Broadway musical approaches the historic tragedy of 1912 in a way completely different to the 1997 film. “We want to transport audiences to another era,” Caalsen explains. “It’s a real story, and all the characters are based on the real people who were on the Titanic, so every story you see is real. We definitely want people to go away feeling moved, and remembering such a historic tragedy.”

Both Face Academy and Face Productions rely on a cast of volunteers, but for the adult cast, at least, you can expect to see the lead roles played by trained professionals from all over the world, and all local Hong Kong talent.

There’s no live band (audiences will hear a fully customisable, “conducted” backing track with a bit of live keyboard), but both gigantic casts are going to blow the roof off in the ensemble numbers. Don’t miss the boat!

Book the “Face Academy” performances and the “Face Productions” performances online, playing 11 – 13 October 2019.

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PANAMAX (2019) | Apple Podcasts

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It’s safe to say that The Prickle are massive fans of Unleash The Llama. So as you can imagine, we all got rather excited to hear they’ve brought out a brand new podcast. Only one episode up so far but it’s absolutely hilarious. Subscribe.

The deranged, epic story follows two naïve millennials: arrogant conspiracy theorist Oscar Ayers and naïve IT-technician Lowell Blair. Travelling around Panama, the pair are mistaken for drug-lords, and drawn into the brutal world of the Panamanian cartels. Recording their experience on their smartphones, the pair are plunged into a maelstrom of mistaken-identities, backstabbing and conspiracy that takes them all the way to a showdown at the Turner Prize awards ceremony.

PanaMax finds hope in the direst of situations, even if those situations are a direct consequence of one’s own ignorance. This series takes the British tradition of odd-ball character comedies that deal with social outsiders and dubious familial patronage – like Withnail and I – and combines it with the ‘caught on tape’ candour of An Idiot Abroad and the narrative drive of Narcos and Breaking Bad to deliver a sitcom that is as thematically and formally relevant as it is entertaining.

This is Unleash The Llama’s first foray into the world of audio, but it’s perfect for their outlandish, over-the-top sensibilities. The first episode isn’t even half an hour — it’s too well-edited — but it’s absolutely crammed with insanity. Subscribe.

Subscribe to PanaMax on Apple Podcasts.

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SWIM COLLECTIVE: INSTANT HAPPINESS IMPROV JAZZ NIGHT | Hong Kong, Eaton HK, Terrible Baby

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How do you like your improv jazz? Completely mental? Then SWIM Collective is for you. It’s unusual for contemporary free jazz to feature a vocalist; three vocalists even moreso. But this is the ensemble’s strength and USP: a highly theatrical, human sound. An accompanying band of harp, keyboard, cello, percussion and electronics allows for a diverse range of expression.

Some of the vocal improvisation is straight out of the Toronto Blessings of the 1990s, a flurry of impassioned tongues, over dissonant spreads of expressionist harp and piano cluster-chords. Sometimes the singers merely coo gently; sometimes they are silent.

One of the most fascinating things about these through-composed, non-repeating, freely improvised pieces, is how the style slowly (sometimes imperceptibly) weaves in and out of free-rhythm effects and anchored, rhythmic, tonal grooves. The whole ensemble are really listening to each other and giving each other space, never trying to dominate the sound. Sometimes this leads to moments of complete silence.

Audience participation is highly encouraged. Everyone is given some tissue paper, and a lucky few are given some spoons. Being conducted in and out, at different volume levels, the sound of paper rustling and spoons clinking en masse is quite mesmerising, and the chance to be involved feels pretty special.

Follow SWIM Collective on Facebook.

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