ROTTEN BIG ASS | Hong Kong, Cultural Centre

We spend the majority of the 75-minute show watching a grainy video, self-filmed by professor Bell Yung on his webcam. He barely stops for breath through his meandering “lecture” on the brilliance of traditional Cantonese storyteller and singer, Dou Wun, whom he recorded in the 1970s. There is something interesting and tragic about academic mania over almost-dead art forms, but this webcam video is neither interesting or tragic; it’s boring.

Towards the end, we do see one performer (David Yeung) walk on stage, operating a life-size Dou Wun puppet (Lai Tat Tat Wing), who then sits down and fumbles about in the action of playing his puppet ehru violin. One of the Emeritus Professor’s live recordings plays: Dou Wun’s tale of “Mr Rotten” (first name “Big-Ass”), a character who returns to a brothel, where he has slowly wasted all his money, to ask for a loan.

Dou Wun is a talented vocalist, and the live recording is, indeed, a privilege to hear. Charming comic strip panels (also Lai Tat Tat Wing) and subtitles elucidate the story for the untrained listener. But what does the clumsy, inactive Dou Wun puppet add? Furthermore, by the time the recording finally rolls around, we are so bored, we are not in the right frame of mind to appreciate it.

This claims to be a piece of “experimental theatre” by famed experimental theatre company Zuni Icosahedron, but how can it be classified as theatre? A far better presentation would be in a daytime gallery space. A brief interlude of flashing lights (Mak Kok-fai) and a dissonant soundscape (Steve Hui) comes over as hysterically boring rather than profound. What does the professor think about all this? What would Dou Wun say if he could see this? Utterly bizarre.

Running until 23 November 2019.

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