A long good night, in the dark silence, someone writes his memorandum, as not to forget.
Last November, Danny Yung’s work Memorandum was shown in Hong Kong for three days, nearly escaping all the notice in media. As in that particular weekend, the biggest drama in the city was the show on the streets, mixed with politics, citizen movement, debates, as well as street violence. In those nights, people on the streets of Hong Kong made a chapter in the city’s history that nobody knows where it would eventually lead to.
“I could hardly be the master of myself. I am a slave to the wild tide of the time.” It is a line from the second part of Memorandum, a coincident but perfect recap for those rough nights.
Before the show, Mr. Yung walked up to the stage. He explained in a soft and low voice why he created the show. Four chapters represented four persons that had enormous influence in his life. All but one were from the world of stage art. These four people, together with some other names, gave him many sleepless nights. To remember, not to forget, as he put before he left the stage, leaving the task to the audience to find out what had not been said in his short address.
The first part Laojiu was an attribute to the pioneer of Singapore theatre, Kuo Pao Kun, who was a faithful story teller and a master in metaphors and multiculturalism. Laojiu was undoubtedly the most sophisticated and exquisite play among the four. The 20-minute performance offered no dialogue. All the subjects, a long list from Yung’s late-night meditation, from civilization, culture, literature, arts, heritage, authoritarianism, to the uniformed, the twisted and the absurd, were present to the audience in a silent drama. The subtitles between the scenes told four metaphors; while the two actors used their body language and facial expression to create the imaginary links. The most powerful moments were created by Liu Xiaoyi, the leading actor in Laojiu. He animated the exaggerated facial expression from the signature paintings of contemporary artist Yue Min Jun. The emotional tension was overwhelming.
The second part Li Kaixian was a bold experiment to create the mirror reflection between Li Kaixian’s play The Sword (宝剑记), and the controversial Jin Ping Mei/The Golden Lotus (金瓶梅). As some scholars have suspected, Li Kaixian could be the real writer of the Golden Lotus, the man behind the cover of Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng (兰陵笑笑生). The unsolved mystery caught Yung’s great interest. He added the performance from Ye Ben (Ling Chong’s Night Journey), a classic Kunqu opera, to his show. It would have been an excellent cross-over experiment. Unfortunately Yang Yang, the leading actor who was professionally trained in Kunqu, failed to deliver an authentic Ye Ben in the critical eyes of a China opera lover. Yang Yang’s Ye Ben was completely overshadowed by Yung’s subtitle. The lines were as beautiful and powerful as poem, the best essence of the night. “I could hardly be the master of myself. The night is dark and the threats to kill are here.”
The third part Cheng Yanqiu was written and presented by Tian Mansha, a professor from Shanghai Theatre Academy. She wrote the play to commemorate Cheng’s tour to Europe back in 1930s. Tian chose a subject with great possibilities. Yet other than the interesting footages from Cheng’s documentary and his Beijing Opera movie Tears in Deserted Mountain, the drama did not work well. The storyline was flat and the performance too straightforward, leaving little room for articulation and inspiration.
In the opening Yung had purposely left out the introduction of the final character. Indeed, this gentleman needed none. The last show of Memorandum was a short video made from the footage of the National Day Parade of 1969. It had no background music; the footage would repeat itself with different subtitles composed by four-letter words: don’t lose don’t forget; stay together stay tight; this life this world; east wind west wind; to east to west; see it love it…… It was up to the audience to interpret the hidden links in between. The show was a bit rough, quite different from the work of Laojiu and Li Kaixian. It was only in a separate discussion with Mr. Yung that I found out the video work was made in 1998. I can see how he has changed over the years – As a complete art work, the video is less sophisticated as Laojiu; it is less critical as Li Kaixian You can see that Yung uses a darker and quieter approach to address the deepening sadness of our time. The fever that the video criticizes still exists today. And it is chosen as the theme of the show. Maybe this direct, angry mentality still haunts us every day in Hong Kong.
This show forced every audience to interpret the drama by themselves. The stage, the props, costume, background, subtitles……the components were minimized. The stage was a simple white carpet; the background a white cloth. A table and two chairs were the most visible decorations on the stage. All the characters were wearing in black, white or grey. No dialogues but only short subtitles. Four plays for four leading figures.
In the theatre of this extreme quietness and simplicity, we could focus on the lighting, the shadow, the facial express and the literature between the scenes. The framework became the most memorable element of the show.
Every time as I think of the play, I recall the stream of light in the centre. I see the white carpet. On the carpet there is a paper board. On the board it writes: Don't lose; don’t forget.
“I could hardly be the master of myself. I am a slave to the wild tide of the time. The revolution bears no hesitation. Breathe the movement into yourself. ”
The night is long, like endless water.
(Cover & Bottom picture: stage photos of Memorandum)About The Author: MK enjoys books, dramas, fine arts, travel and work. Graduated in Applied Chemistry but ended in marketing and communication. She works in a multinational machinery company as Marketing and Communications Director of Asia Pacific. Apart from her work, she writes book reviews and travel journals. MK stayed in Singapore for a couple of years and now lives in Hong Kong.
Continue reading on Issue 6 / March 2015:Living in the Present, Not Forgetting the Past