Bringing “Equus" to Hong Kong
(Wall Street Journal – Scene Asia)
Actor Anthony Wong launches theater company with Cantonese-language adaptation.
By DEAN NAPOLITANO and JOYU WANG
Hong Kong is famous for business, tourism, food and action movies. But theater? Hardly.
Anthony Wong is trying to change that.
The veteran film actor is bringing Peter Shaffer’s “Equus”—which was first produced on stage in London in 1973 and later moved to Broadway—to Hong Kong for a 3½-week run starting Friday.
The play is the first production for a theater company formed last year by Mr. Wong and Olivia Yan, who is directing this version. But they first had to translate the script for the Cantonese-language performances, and that wasn’t an easy task.
The story about child psychologist Martin Dysart (Mr. Wong) and his patient, a 17-year-old stable boy who has blinded six horses, explores the conflict between sex and religion and is sprinkled with references to Greek philosophy and mythology. (The play was famously revived in London and New York a few years ago with Richard Griffiths and Daniel Radcliffe.)
Translating the play to make it accessible for local audiences proved challenging.
“It’s very difficult,” said Mr. Wong, who studied and trained in Western drama at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, where, coincidentally, “Equus” will be performed. “You want to explain to the Hong Kong audience [about the themes] and let them understand what they are.” Theater-goers in the city usually gravitate toward “something entertaining, some comedy—easy to digest,” Mr. Wong said.
“Is Hong Kong a theater city? No … but it’s getting better and better,” he said. “People are starting to think. The atmosphere—the environment’s changing, everything’s changing. When the citizens start to think, they need theater.”
Ms. Yan said that while the translation is true to the original play, some condensing was necessary. “It’s easier for Western audiences to understand ancient Greek mythology,” she said, “but we could not drill into it too deep.” For example, they had to simplify the background of Dionysus, the god of wine and ecstasy. (The collaborative duo named their company Dionysus Contemporary Theatre.)
導演甄詠蓓表示劇本翻譯除了忠於原著之外，也必須作些精簡。「西方觀眾比較容易理解希臘神話典故，但是我們不能在這方面鑽研太深。」例如，他們必須把劇中指涉到希臘酒神戴歐尼修斯的部分加以簡化。（「神戲劇場」的英文名稱 Dionysus Contemporary Theatre 就是以這位象徵美酒與狂歡的希臘神祇為本。）
For Mr. Wong’s co-star, too, “Equus” required a crash course in Western drama.
“Before this play, my knowledge of drama was shallow,” said Hins Cheung, who plays the stableboy. “I spent a lot of time asking [Mr. Wong] … about Greek tragedy,” he said. “We did a lot of research, including an analysis of the script and background,” he said. “We had many workshops, like horse riding, watching videos.”
The strongest element the Hong Kong production has going for it is the presence of its two established stars.
In a 30-year career, Mr. Wong has become one of the most familiar faces in Hong Kong movies, appearing in such films as the “Infernal Affairs” trilogy and last year’s “Ip Man: The Final Fight.”
With Mr. Cheung, the play has a popular Cantopop singer-songwriter, a lure that could attract the interest of younger audiences who haven’t previously been exposed to much theater. And the fact that Mr. Cheung’s character appears nude has been the subject of much media attention, which he shrugged off as tabloid fodder, saying that he hopes the audience concentrates on the play.
But just why did Mr. Wong decide on such a complex and demanding play for his new theater company’s first production?
“Because of him,” he said, pointing to Mr. Cheung. “One night we headed out to a pub. After a few drinks he asked me to teach him how to act. I was thinking he’s just trying to be nice.…I said, “Yeah, OK, well maybe, let me think about that.” A few minutes later, “Equus,” which he had read years earlier, “popped in my mind.”
It was a curious choice, but Mr. Wong wanted the challenge.
With “Equus,” he said, “my dream comes true … [to] do something real, do something good, do something fascinating.”
(Caption) With ‘Equus,’ says Anthony Wong, ‘my dream comes true.’ Joyu Wang/The Wall Street Journal
(Caption)Cantopop singer-songwriter Hins Cheung plays the stableboy in ‘Equus.’ Joyu Wang/The Wall Street Journal