#1314 | Hong Kong, Sha Tin Town Hall

Théâtre de la Feuille’s new incarnation of their 2016 glacial physical theatre song cycle, based on Shakespeare’s sonnets, plays on the gigantic Sha Tin Town Hall main stage, with a gigantic cast including on-stage musicians. In Cantonese, “one three one four” (一三一四) is a soundalike for “one life one lifetime” (一生一世), a traditional way of expressing romance as everlasting.

Though Shakespeare’s sonnets are love poems, in this production, the selection and treatment evoke death and grief: the spoken text is bookended by sustained choral clusters from the cast, flanked either side of an illuminated magic circle in the centre of the stage, giving the proceedings a sacred, funereal quality.

In the whole cast, only Han Mei comes across as older than the others, dressed more formally, singing Mandarin in a strained voice. But then, at the end, the seventeen chorus members run around and fling their clothes off into the centre of the magic circle, who all look like young dance graduates. An opportunity to explore age and ageing, a recurrent theme of the text, has been lost by not choosing a more diverse cast.

It’s a noble task to explore the theme of death in Shakespeare’s sonnets, and to translate selections into Cantonese and Mandarin. But the slow, dreary movement (Ata Wong) and slow, dreary music (Charles Kwong) do little to enhance Shakespeare’s bright and ageless poetry.

Playing 24 – 26 December 2021 as part of Jockey Club New Arts Power.

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