JUNGO! | Hong Kong, Sheung Wan Civic Centre

What’s better than a saxophone ensemble? A saxophone ensemble where all the players dress up as jungle animals, obviously. Designed for ages three and up, this eclectic concert by La Sax covers everything from Gershwin to Studio Ghibli. Harry Wong (aka beloved local children’s presenter Harry Gor Gor) is creative director, and, even though the show features almost no speaking at all, he also acts as a kind of host and clown.

The jungle theme looks great, and it’s fun to see a brief moment where the elephant trumpets its trunk (a baritone saxophone). But why doesn’t the mouse squeak? Why doesn’t the frog ribbit? Why doesn’t the lion roar? Where’s the fog-horn, flutter-tonguing and glissandi from this most expressive of instruments? It’s also a shame there’s no physical characterisation or acting to help us distinguish between the animals. The audience are given giraffe and lion hats but we’re not asked to do anything with them.

However, despite the title, it’s not all jungle themed. The show opens with a battle between two saxophone quintets: the first a modern, finger-snapping outfit performing Stevie Wonder; the second a white-wigged, baroque ensemble performing Vivaldi. A cleaner (Cherry Tsang) enters, sweeping up bits of paper, until she’s magicked into becoming a brilliant concert pianist.

With all these great ideas, is a shame that the ensemble are unable to play large chunks of the material: audiences should expect squeaks, missed cues and botched lines throughout. Jokes about the host making hopeless attempts to play along also don’t land, for the same reason. The show is explicitly about encouraging children to play the saxophone; what a shame this show doesn’t offer an opportunity to hear it played expertly.

Playing various Hong Kong venues until 10 November 2019.

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