Tucked into the alcoves of Underbelly’s Cowgate venue, in a room with stone walls and arched ceilings, there is a fantastic play being performed for the Fringe. The room itself feels old and historic, but the play shown within is entirely new: a topical, fresh portrayal of life in currently oppressed Hong Kong. Produced by Max Percy + Friends, This is Not a Show About Hong Kong is a complex and deeply powerful play, which uses physical theatre and dance to tackle the complicated subject of life in Hong Kong under the new national security law. It is abstract, visually exciting, and leaves a deep impression on its audience.
The national security law, introduced in Hong Kong by China in June 2020, has restricted the individual freedom of Hong Kong’s citizens, criminalising secession and subversion; in other words, Beijing can now accuse citizens of undermining governmental authority. Some of the law’s provisions include the use of wire-tapping and surveillance of anyone suspected of breaking the law, alongside sentences of life imprisonment, and closed-door trials [all facts supplied from here]. This is Not a Play About Hong Kong takes a nuanced approach to its topic, and rather than having a conventional beginning-middle-end, is instead comprised of a series of vignettes, each exploring different aspects of realities of life for many citizens of Hong Kong in what is now a climate of oppression and censorship within the state.
The identities of the cast members have been kept anonymous in the media and in all promotional materials for the show, in the interest of their safety. Similarly, the wordplay of the play’s title only goes to show the necessity for some level of subversion in this show; just as the cast cannot broadcast their own names, the drama’s title must, too, refrain from an overly-explicit statement about its content. It is a reflection of the risks the play undertakes.
I found myself deeply affected while watching This is Not a Show About Hong Kong, as it raised poignant questions surrounding the loss of one’s identity and feeling of safety. The show itself is a bubbling blend of physical theatre, dance, and video. Rather than focusing on speech, the actors use movement to communicate feelings of loss and fear. They scream, mime, cry and laugh their way about the stage, sometimes in bursts of energy and emotion, while at other times holding the audience’s focus in silent tableaus. Video clips are sporadically projected onto the stage, and are often confronting and even distressing in nature. These are perhaps the most explicit references to current and past atrocities in Hong Kong, while the action on stage remains more impressionistic, an exploration of loss and fear in reaction to the situation in Hong Kong.
The number and variety of different vignettes make the play feel at times confusing, but what is clear is the haunting sense of crisis throughout; this is a play with something to say, an important outlet for those living under a time of oppression.
All in all, I would wholly recommend seeing this wonderful show during its final week at the Fringe. Lively and impressionistic, it makes for interesting and deeply important viewing.
This is Not a Show About Hong Kong is at Underbelly Cowgate (Big Belly) August 4-28 at 14:00.
Images courtesy of Max Percy + Friends, provided to The Student as press material.