Monday, 16 July 2012

戲味與劇力

大學二年級時,和Patricia一起選修了中文系梁沛錦博士的古典戲曲課,研讀了一些雜劇、傳奇原著,還合寫了一篇學期論文,比較湯顯祖《牡丹亭》與唐先生的粵劇改編本。興趣攸關,所以這門課唸得特別起勁,比主修科還要認真。可惜成績未如理想,竟是四年來所有主修、副修和選修科目中最低分的;事隔多年,仍是意難平。

聽課之暇,不免與梁博士討論一下看戲的見聞和感想,從而得知他對當年公主殿下和同學仔的演出不以為然。大概為了顧全小女孩傾慕偶像時脆弱而敏感的心靈,梁博士只說了這麼一句:「她們的演出有劇味而沒戲味。」當時似懂非懂,但又不敢細問,只是記著老師的話,以觀後效。

直至去年底,和幾位老友一起欣賞公主殿下和同學仔的「復合」演出。完場後,Patricia和Ramie一致認為:〈幻覺離恨天〉是四折之中最精采的。Patricia甚至說,以前覺得〈幻覺離恨天〉冗長、沉悶,如今竟開始感受到一點動人的情韻來。我對〈幻覺離恨天〉一直有點無以言狀的hard feeling,謝幕的時候,強抑著翻江倒海的思緒,倒想起梁博士那句話來,暗忖:「若是梁博士在場,總應該對公主殿下改觀了罷?」

「戲劇」一詞,沿用已久,日常說話和寫字,總是把這兩個字當作同義詞。梁博士卻把「戲」與「劇」分開,難免令人摸不著頭腦。根據我這些年看戲的感悟,終於開始明白,他所說的「戲味」,大概是指人物因情節或境遇而產生的情感,能夠引起觀眾深刻的共鳴;即使對故事情節早已爛熟於胸,仍會重複欣賞,追求那一份刻骨銘心的觸動。「劇味」(或可稱為「劇力」?)則是指引人入勝、出人意表的情節,或者在某個場景之中,觀眾對劇情或演員的表情、動作或反應有某一種期待。無論是戲味或劇味,都是吸引觀眾的重要因素,但孰優孰劣,恐怕難以定論,還須看觀眾的要求和期望而定。

竊以為「戲味」比較重要,也較難表達。劇情若是編寫得好,應該不只有劇力,也要有戲味,值得一看再看。劇力萬鈞、跌宕曲折的情節,卻未必有令人低迴再三的戲味;戲味雋永、發人深省的戲劇,情節也未必很複雜,反而在平淡、簡單處,更彰顯動人心魄的情韻。不過,引人入勝的情節,總是比較吸引的,即使戲味不濃,觀眾也更容易接受。要突破劇情的局限,發掘和表達其中深刻動人的戲味,不只考驗演員的功力,也是量度觀眾欣賞水平的指標。

例如《紅樓夢》之〈焚稿歸天〉,我會認為那是戲味較濃的折子;《蝶影紅梨記》之〈窺醉〉,則是劇力較強。因為〈焚稿歸天〉的情節較簡單,其實是黛玉彌留之際的自白。由不同的旦角來演繹的話,優劣就在於她們表演的感人程度,與曲詞、口白本身的內容關係較淺。〈窺醉〉的情況卻稍有不同,光是幾句妙趣橫生的口白已經可以逗得觀眾人仰馬翻,那文武生演得如何浮誇或平淡,卻好像沒甚麼人注意。平心而論,即使再有趣的笑話,聽一百次後總該不好笑了,所以我不明白為何那麼多觀眾看了無數次〈窺醉〉,早該把內容倒背如流,卻仍能笑得那麼開懷。若是有人可以把趙汝州的癡態可掬表達得生動傳神,能逗得我會心微笑,那肯定是功力非凡的高人異士了。

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

戲與曲

少年時開始看粵劇,上大學後又跟著朋友涉獵其他劇種,一晃眼已是二十多年。不知怎地一直沒有認真思考「何謂戲曲」這個最基本的問題。直至今年初慕名去看《情僧偷渡瀟湘館》,突然靈光一閃,開始在腦袋裡醞釀一點比較清晰的想法。

愚以為「戲曲」者,應該以「戲」為先,以「曲」為輔。「曲」是「戲」的表達方式,「戲」則是「曲」的內容。兩者有主次之分,卻又相輔相成──因為沒有「戲」,「曲」只能是純粹供聽覺享受的散曲;沒有「曲」,「戲」又不成戲曲,而是話劇了。多年前曾聽說有人反對把戲曲的英文譯作Chinese opera,應該直接以國語拼音xiqu取代,正是因為戲曲以「戲」為主,與西洋歌劇以「歌」為先的性質迥然不同。當時似懂非懂、不求甚解,如今總算恍然而悟了。

《情僧偷渡瀟湘館》是何非凡的名劇,早已如雷貫耳,但始終沒機會欣賞。今年初香港大會堂為慶祝五十周年而搬演此劇,自是興沖沖的進場見識。沒想到劇本乏善足陳,曲詞生硬庸俗,而且不太協律,甚至第一齣竟有換韻兩三次者,實在令人大吃一驚(其實公主殿下的〈焚稿歸天〉也換了一次韻,與一般粵劇一齣一韻的規則相悖,叫人莫名其妙,敬請高明解惑)。全劇幾無情節可言,猶如傳說中的提綱戲,全憑演員演技和唱功支撐大局。

兩位主角吳仟峰和尹飛燕都是成名已久、經驗豐富的老倌,恰好代表了擅唱與擅演兩大特色。愚以為在演繹平淡乏味的劇本時,明顯以燕姐爐火純青的演技佔上風。在〈焚稿歸天〉一折,內容雖與公主殿下的版本大同小異,曲詞卻不可同日而語。然而看著燕姐從悲憤欲絕到淚流披面,感情充沛,層次分明,牢牢吸引著觀眾的注意力。全場屏息靜氣,彷彿連蚊子飛過也聽得見。折子演不到一半,我已經不必理會曲詞內容,光是盯著燕姐的臉容、身段和動作,已經覺得精采絕倫、目不暇給,真切地感受到黛玉絕望無助的心情。接著在尾場〈偷渡瀟湘〉,吳仟峰穿起袈裟,在人去樓空的瀟湘館痛悼餘情,唱腔雄渾剛勁、神清氣足,但不知怎地,總覺得少了三分穿透人心的感染力。

這讓我想起以前跟朋友去看京劇,印象沒想像中的好,感受也沒有預期中的深刻。如今仔細想來,大概是自己不懂欣賞。因為京戲是用「聽」的,不是「看」的。我用看戲的態度來欣賞,根本就是捉錯用神。但既然是整齊穿戴在舞臺上搬演的「戲」,音樂、曲詞和歌聲,旁及臉部表情、身段和肢體動作,自是為了表達劇中人物的感情和處境而發。如果不能做到這一點,試問「戲」從何來?何不在茶樓、酒館聽小妞兒清唱算了?因此,我很不喜歡某些演員(不只是京戲,所有戲曲劇種均有類似情況,包括粵劇,只是多寡之別)為了博取觀眾(聽眾?)的掌聲,唱曲時有事沒事故作高亢,或者刻意把尾音拉長,以彰顯其唱功,實則不過是賣弄。於我看來,這哪裡是演戲?簡直就是江湖賣藝一般,努力表現自己的聲線和唱功,為的只是討好觀眾,完全置劇中人於不顧。但在場的戲迷(曲迷?)似乎很享受這種表演方式,叫好、鼓掌之聲此起彼落,倒教我目瞪口呆。

西洋歌劇給我的印象也是如此。多年前看過一兩次歌劇,觀感只是一般,沒有引起太大興趣。言語不通固然是一大障礙,相信以唱為先的藝術特色,才是我難以投入的主要原因。

自問沒有甚麼音樂天分,小時候雖然學過幾年小提琴,也參加過合唱團,但樂理、聲樂之類的東西,早已忘得一乾二淨,因此不太懂得欣賞聲樂方面的技巧。無論是聽粵曲、崑曲或流行曲,始終偏愛能夠以聲音說故事、訴衷情的高手。總覺得歌藝真正超凡脫俗之處,不在於「高音甜、中音準、低音勁」,而在於能夠充分表達曲詞的內涵,令聽眾聞其聲如見其人,把歌曲中的喜怒哀樂娓娓道來,觸動內心深處某個柔軟的角落,引起歷久常新的共鳴與悸動。這正是我多年來偏愛女皇陛下和公主殿下的根由。

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

A Letter to Pui-yan

Dear Pui-yan,

Hope you are well and would not be too astonished reading this. Personally we don't know each other, but I have run into you on several occasions, mostly at the theatre. I recognise you because you were accompanying your parents, whose photos are published from time to time in the media. And I have read about your daring decision to pursue a career in Cantonese opera.

As a devoted supporter of this archaic art and a big fan of Mr Dickson Tong, I am writing you this letter to share my two-cent worth about your recent performance at Kwai Tsing Theatre, in the hope of providing some feedback for your consideration as you prepare for the re-run next month.

As you would probably agree, the three titles staged just now, Rejuvenation of the Red Plum, Tale of the Purple Hairpin and Princess Changping (Pardon me for using the most common translation because I don't think Floral Princess makes any sense to a non-Chinese reader or audience) are by far the best of Mr Tong's works but also the most difficult to perform, let alone excel. It is true that one generation after another have enjoyed them very much over the decades, and staging them makes great economic sense. But for someone like you who have but several years of on-stage experience, it might be too much of a challenge.

Obviously you have made tremendous efforts to play well those full-blown characters, and you deserve a big applause not only for your endeavours but also for the artistic level attained. Having said that, I did, and still do, expect more in the delivery of those adorable and respectable characters. Certainly you have done a good job, but in my opinion, not good enough. Just to share a few points here for your contemplation:

For me, the ultimate value of any form of drama and opera is about resonance with the heart by re-presenting the emotional and psychological trajectory of the characters in any given plot. Actors and actresses are appraised for their capability of arousing a emotional response from the audience. In other words, the value of drama and opera goes way beyond telling an interesting story. Otherwise why do we bother to watch those classic titles every now and then when we have already learnt the plots by heart? These art forms should, therefore, be emotionally arousing and thought-provoking by telling a story in whatever manner designed and delivered by the directors, actors and actresses.

In the case of Cantonese opera, delivery is even more burdensome and complicated because it requires an aesthetic and skilful combination of singing, speaking and body movements. These techniques are meant to be vehicles of emotional expression. Excellence in any one of them is by no means easy, and certainly distracting and exhausting enough, as we can see that some prominent players in the industry are actually great singers but poor actors and actresses. Technical mastery of any of these aspects just does not necessarily guarantee success in achieving their ultimate purpose.

Therefore, I think it is not good enough to sing well or move the limbs and body perfectly as rehearsed. All these elements need to be organically and proficiently integrated, so that they become manifestations of what the characters have in mind, why and how. Ideally, the conveyance should be profound enough to hit a nerve of the audience, stirring up emotions, good or bad.

From what I saw in Rejuvenation of the Plum Blossom and Tale of the Purple Hairpin, I think you could have done better in bringing to life the characters and their distinctive personalities with more strength. Now that you have attained a certain level of mastery of the technicalities, it is time for you to go the extra mile.

Having said so, I do agree that the female leads in these titles may be too arduous and sophisticated for actresses with limited experience like you. Moreover, too many reputable and seasoned actresses have performed these roles, and too familiar are the audience with them. Together all these factors have brought the audience's expectations to unreasonable height, even though they may not be consciously aware. I can't be spared either, having been in the theatre for more than 20 years. Certainly it is unfair, if discouraging, to someone devoted and hard-working like you. This is why I would suggest you attempt less sophisticated characters such as Tse So-chau in Butterfly and Red Pear Blossoms or Leng Sheung-sim in Goddess of the Nine Heavens. Even the masterpieces of Fong Yim-fun like Goddess of River Luo and Snow in June are good choices too. Not that these characters are easy to grasp and deliver, but comparatively speaking they seem slightly more straightforward. It is important to choose the right starting point because you need to build up confidence and convince yourself that you can make it, do it well before anyone else. Once your confidence is secured, skills sharpened and experience consolidated, you would be in a better position to meet the challenge of delivering those classic characters with greater dexterity and stronger impact.

Pardon me for my long-windedness, or if you find anything harsh or offensive. I don't mean to. As a fan of the art, I just feel obliged of sharing my thoughts in the hope that it would be helpful to you and the industry as a whole, in one way or another. You have already done a great job, but there is no end to the pursuit of excellence, as the saying goes. Keep it up and I'm sure you can do it.

On a final note, I chose to write to you in English because I want to spare you and me, or at least to minimise, any potential and unwanted trouble. You should know better than me that too many brainless fools out there have nothing better to do than sowing discord, hatred and suspicions. Any critical feedback, albeit well-intended, might be distorted to cause harm. This is precisely what I have been trying my best to avoid.

Yours faithfully,

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Fifteen Years on…

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the political handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China.

Surely much has happened over the past five years, since I wrote about the first decade after the handover. But today so little seems memorable.

Despite all the lousy tumult, I have been relatively calm these days. Not that I'm indifferent to what is going on, but frustration and helplessness seems to have taken over somewhat.

Over the past few years Hong Kong has deteriorated rapidly on various fronts. The local economy has shown little vitality and diversity but an even stronger inclination towards reliance on China. Like it or not, forging closer ties with China is inevitable, but it doesn't mean that we have to put all our bet in it. More importantly, we need to maintain our integrity and composure even when dealing with the largest benefactor. Being rich and powerful does not warrant any superiority. If we truly want to be respected, we have to respect ourselves by upholding our dignity and integrity.

Thinking about the future of Hong Kong, my hometown, has often left me speechless and lost in thoughts these days. When I came across the following scene this evening, it somehow resonates well with what I feel deep inside.