Monday, 29 April 2013

《感天動地竇娥冤》

去年寫過幾篇文章討論《六月雪》不同的演出本,提到不知為何,唐先生當年改編的旨趣與關漢卿原著大異。沒料到今年就有機會看到比較接近關漢卿原著題旨的粵劇改編本,少不免要見識一下。

此劇沿用關漢卿原著的劇名《感天動地竇娥冤》,故事情節與原著亦相差不遠,但刪去了賽盧醫一角,把張驢兒買毒藥謀害蔡婆以暗場交代;再加入了竇娥含冤問斬後,向冥神哭訴的一段戲。估計這是為了給女主角和飾演冥神的演員發揮唱功和身段而安排的,但我素來不太接受怪力亂神的東西,而且竇娥只是向冥神哭訴,又不是借助祂的力量起死回生,與劇情根本沒甚麼關係,還是覺得可免則免。何況數百年前關漢卿的原著也沒有談仙論佛,難道古人的思想境界比二十一世紀的香港更進步?故而未免略有蛇足之憾。

話雖如此,此劇勇於打破六柱制的桎梏,摒棄生旦言情的俗套,臺前幕後敢於創新的勇氣,還是值得嘉許的。劇中沿用關漢卿原著的角色編排,沒有文武生行當,只有正旦(竇娥)、末(即鬚生,竇娥之父竇天章及張驢兒之父)、老旦(蔡婆)、丑(張驢兒、山陽縣令)和淨(即花臉,冥神)。劇情尚算流暢,但略嫌不夠緊湊,可以再修飾一下。尤其是竇天章如何將女兒賣予蔡婆作童養媳,以及張驢兒如何收買縣令,誣陷竇娥那兩段,就可以精簡一些,以加強緊張的氣氛。結尾也略嫌拖沓,特別是冥神出場那一段功架,好看的確是好看,飾演者劍英也充分表現了自己矯捷的身手,可是實在跟劇情關係不大,淪為一場為表演而表演的蛇足。如果真的要保留這個角色,不如從情節方面著手補充,例如說因為竇娥是冤魂,不能直闖公衙向父親伸冤,必須得到冥神批准,或者賜她一道恩諭或一件法器,才能登堂入室,這就顯得更為合理。

此劇由資深粵劇導師廖儒安執筆,文詞尚算優美,雖不免有點沙石,但總算通順達意。例如竇天章到底年紀有多大?竇娥七歲時,他自稱「快到而立之年」,即未滿三十歲。竇娥二十歲喪命,即父女分別只是十餘年,他怎會「年逾半百」?難得小本製作也提供了字幕,可是錯別字仍嫌太多,正體字、簡體字混淆的情況也太普遍,實在看得人很不舒服。其實附設字幕,不為別的,就是要讓觀眾看懂劇情內容,所以實在輕率不得,希望他們多加注意。

演員方面,以飾演竇娥的康華最為亮眼。看來她在身段方面下過苦功,不少高難度動作也應付自如,想是從小受訓的成果。唱功也極了得,聲調高亢而不刺耳,尤其是演繹竇娥訴冤那一段,最能切合人物的心境,非常難得。但須加強聲線控制,不是一味嘹亮就是好,必須以劇情需要為依歸,做到收放自如,方為上乘。臉部表情和身段也一樣,要與戲文融為一體,不要讓觀眾覺得純粹是表演技巧,而要令他們相信眼前人就是劇中角色,才算真正的成功。當然,要做到這個境界,並非一朝一夕之功,但須認清正確的方向,才得有所成就。

阮德鏘飾演竇天章,保持一貫水準。目前已看過他幾次以老生、鬚生行當應工,如《霸王別姬》的蕭何、《雙仙拜月亭》的王丞相等,演來已相當老練,但仍稍欠火候。演到激動、火爆的場面時,的確盛氣凌人,可是流於易放難收,有時顯得不夠沉穩莊重,不太切合人物身分。這次演竇天章,明顯較為用心,效果亦較理想。但尾場從懷疑女鬼咎由自取到得悉真相的感情轉折,可以再清晰一些、豐富一些,以加強感人的效果。

蔡婆由郭啟輝反串,倒也不錯。之前看過他在《無情寶劍有情天》以丑行飾演胡道從(諧音「糊塗蟲」者也……),非常稱職,又沒有某些演員說話粗鄙逗人發笑的俗套。他看來非常年輕,就像剛從大學畢業沒幾年的小胖子,所以模仿年長角色的動態時,難免有點粗疏,希望他繼續努力,尤須仔細觀察社會上各色人等,才有裨益。

相比之下,劍麟再演張驢兒,頗覺失色。雖說同以丑行應工,此《竇娥冤》的驢兒不同彼《六月雪》的驢兒,我期望看到兩者之間的分別。但除了這次少了一雙誇張的大牛耳之外,實在看不出有甚麼差異。說實話,張驢兒是個心狠手辣的傢伙,誣陷蔡婆和竇娥殺人臉不改容,對父親橫死卻無動於衷,一心只想著如何藉此敲詐勒索,所以不能演得太滑稽、太可愛,讓人忘記這個角色奸滑涼薄的本質。看來光頭仔仍須痛下苦功啊。

最後,還有一點不吐不快:常說戲曲要承傳,其實不但要培養臺前幕後的人才,培養具水平的觀眾似乎更重要,但一直頗受忽略。當晚,後排幾名老觀眾一邊看戲,一邊不停地旁述劇情,或者批評情節改動太多,原來以為他們看的是唐先生的《六月雪》,卻沒看到手上的宣傳單張早用斗大的字體註明這是「新編粵劇《感天動地竇娥冤》」。我幾次回頭怒目圓睜瞪著他們也無濟於事,實在忍無可忍,向工作人員投訴。他們在換幕時上前有禮貌地勸喻那些自以為是的老觀眾談話時放輕一點,反而招來一頓臭罵,我幾經辛苦才按下怒火,沒把他們轟將出去。如果觀眾的欣賞水平不能提高,所有者不是固步自封就是盲目崇拜偶像,這門藝術還有甚麼前途可言?演員和工作人員再努力上進,也只能是白費心機。

Thursday, 25 April 2013

A Convenient Excuse

Thank God that the powerful earthquake at 7.0 on Richter scale that hit Ya'an of Sichuan province last Saturday, 20 April, was less devastating than what Wenchuan experienced five years ago. To date almost 200 people were killed, leaving some 11,000 injured and hundreds of thousands homeless.

While the toll is by all means too much to take, it is still relieving to see the damage of life and property seemed less deadly than the earthquake in 2008.

What seems more nauseating though is that many people in Hong Kong, some of my media friends included, are now asking people not to donate to help the victims. If you want to donate, they said, make sure you don't give to the corrupt officials but reputable and trustworthy charitable organisations. A few others advocate donation of relief supplies rather than cash to minimise the opportunity of embezzlement.

Many, though not all, officials of communist China are notoriously corrupt. This has been the case for at least thirty, if not more, years since the opening-up reforms. Vested interests are so inextricable with the existing political and economic structures that despite repeated calls from the paramount leaders to stay clean, corruption has seemingly become an inevitable parasite, which is too extensive to be eradicated. But I find it incomprehensible to refuse giving a helping hand to the earthquake victims out of nothing but sheer hatred and resentment against their government.

"China is so rich that it doesn't run out of cash for disaster relief, if it wants to do something. Their officials are so corrupt that our money will most probably end up in their pockets rather than the victims. So we'd better not to give a penny." So my friends said. Similar messages smeared all over the place on my Facebook wall.

A chill ran down my spine when I came across the first message of this kind. Then anger erupted and set my heart on flames. I hate to repeat the official rhetoric of nationalism and patriotism, which is completely irrelevant. My point is utterly simple: What on earth the victims have to do with the corrupt officials? What have those who barely survived and lost their loved ones done to deserve all these heartless coldness and contemptuous scepticism?

For one thing, we are not giving everything we have to help. Any donation should mean nothing more than a token of support for those in need. For another, I feel compelled to help because, thanks to the tireless relay of information through the mass media, I happened to see someone is suffering, and I feel terribly sorry for them. Be they Chinese, my fellow countrymen and women, or those in the remote corners of Iran and many other parts of the world.

How many of you ever noticed that an earthquake also hit the borders of Iran and Pakistan after the Boston blasts? Why so many of you sympathise with the Japanese earthquake victims two years ago, as if someone in your family were killed, as well as those in the Boston but no one else? Does it mean sympathy is conditional and selective?

Our forefathers used to have cool heads and made a clear distinction between our nationality and identification with the regime. While they fled their homeland decades ago seeking a freer, better life here at the southern tip of the mainland, few of them surrendered their Chinese nationality. Clearly, time has now changed. Hatred and resentment has taken sense and sensibility away from people's brains and put in their place indifference, heartlessness and a resolution to detach from one's roots; the same mistake the Chinese communists, among others, had repeatedly committed throughout their rule.

Unfortunately, now it seems the Chinese communists have become a convenient excuse for our apathy, contempt, hatred, mistrust, scepticism and whatever cruel and silly things we do, including denying our belonging to the Chinese nation. Few seem to realise that by denying our Chinese nationality, we are losing ground to exerting a meaningful impact on the Chinese communists if we believe the best way to change China is to change them. Any violent transformation or revolution would be unimaginable at least for the time being. And I bet too many people who can't wait to see the communists topple have no clue what that really means.

Having said that, whether or not the Hong Kong government under Chun-ying Leung should donate HK$100 million to the provincial government of Sichuan is debatable. The amount is, of course, subject to further contemplation because it is taxpayers' money. An alternative, perhaps even more effective, form of help may be sending teams of professional rescuers, doctors, psychologists and other relief workers to offer counselling, medical and disaster relief services that will facilitate a speedy recovery of both physical and mental health among the victims. These should also be sufficient to address the concerns of those who are worried about the whereabouts of our donations. Although, knowing the Chinese communists, whether volunteer teams would be allowed access to the earthquake-hit areas remains a question, it should not become a convenient excuse for us to sit comfortably at home with folded arms and complain yet again about the communist regime. All victims need is help and support, not lip service.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

A Note of Thanks

Thanks to the uncontrollable proliferation of mobile communications and online social networking, human life is no longer what it used to be. How we lived in the last decade just feels like it happened half a century ago. There are plenty of scholarly studies on the social, psychological and behavioural impact of mobile and online communications, but users hardly give a damn. Bringing one's mobile gadget and staying connected to the internet is almost a matter of life and death for modern urban dwellers. People nowadays tend to feel more uneasy forgetting their mobile phone than their purse. Perhaps some of you feel the same too.

Of course I am no exception. Ever since the popularisation of Facebook and WhatsApp, I am so used to communicating on these channels that I almost forgot what it feels like chattering with a friend over the phone. Email is almost restricted to work purposes. The telephone, be it at home or in the office, has almost stopped ringing as if it had gone dumb.

This is why I felt, and still do, so happy and surprised receiving a call the other day from someone with whom I only befriended a couple of months ago.

It was not a request for any help. It was not a call on any purpose or excuse. It was a genuine call of love and care, because she had seen the picture of my bandaged knee on Facebook and felt compelled to check out how I was doing. It was also a much-awaited reminder of the power of direct, interpersonal expressions of love, care, friendship and other forms of affection.

Making a big fuss of trivial episodes like this may sound a bit silly. But the inclination to hold my composure is hopelessly fragile. Not to mention that in global metropolises like Hong Kong we are running short, rather than having an excessive dose, of explicit care and concern for people who are truly important to us.

Thank you my dear!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher

Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher passed away on Monday, 8 April, at the age of 87.

To the people of Hong Kong, Mrs Thatcher was probably the best known British prime minister in history, primarily for her role in the Sino-British talks that determined the political fate of Hong Kong after 30 June 1997, when the 99-year lease of the New Territories under the Second Convention of Peking (aka The Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory) expired.

To be honest, I didn't, and still don't, feel too strongly hearing the news. Given her age and ailing health, it was somewhat expected. The question is not whether it would happen, but when.

Having read the local press and online coverage of her passing, however, I was surprised to realise how little the people of Hong Kong seem to know about her policies and legacies. The news coverage was incredibly short, and the so-called analysis was little more than a Chinese translation of foreign news syndicates. Comments were sought from various local politicians and scholars as a matter of routine, but those were mostly personal views that didn't shed much light on how Mrs Thatcher's policies and their impact should be assessed and understood.

Mrs Thatcher was the first British prime minister I knew. I was six when she took office in 1979. My first impression of Britain at that time was a problem-laden country thousands of miles away where the people seemed to lead a hard life. As far as I could remember, television news footage of Britain in the late 1970s and early 1980s was often flooded with striking workers and the police's violent arrests and suppressions, terrorist attacks by the Irish Republican Army that killed and wounded scores and hundreds of people at times, and a war fought over some remote lands called the Falklands. I felt sorry for the people, who seemed to live under tremendous pressure and uncertainty, not knowing if they would lose their jobs, or even get killed any time. But I didn't know why, and what made all those happen.

Only until I studied the history of the British empire two years ago, and read books on political history such as Dr Li Pang-kwong's work on governance of colonial Hong Kong based on closed official archives that have recently been opened to public access, Dr Lui Tai-lok's insightful review of social changes in Hong Kong, as well as Noam Chomsky's Occupy and David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism, did I come to realise how ignorant we were about our former coloniser. Too many of us simply follow the practices and procedures and take them for granted, without bothering to question why they are so and how they came by in the first place.

Mrs Thatcher's impact on Hong Kong was certainly more than the Sino-British Joint Declaration. For example, her paramount belief in the power of the free market, a reduced role of the government, privatisation and self-help, and thus the contempt of dependence on social welfare, has pretty much become the so-called "core values" of Hong Kong. While there are also social and historical factors that help explain why Hong Kong is so receptive to these notions, it may be fair to say that Mrs Thatcher's philosophy has reinforced some of our underlying beliefs and struck a chord with the people of Hong Kong.

Unfortunately, it seems backfiring now. And few of us are aware of how dear the price can be.

In any event, may you rest in peace, Baroness Thatcher. Thank you for all the good and bad. It is now time for us to learn the lesson and clear the mess on our own.

To know more, check these out:

BBC profile of Mrs Thatcher

Financial Times' obituary on Mrs Thatcher

Obituary by Hugo Young, Mrs Thatcher's biographer, who died in 2003. He wrote this two weeks before he died.

Monday, 1 April 2013

話劇《青蛇》

今年在「香港藝術節」看的最後一個節目,就是國家話劇院的《青蛇》。

一直極喜愛李碧華的小說《青蛇》,竊以為那是《白蛇傳》流傳數百年來,看過最好的改編本。

可惜,無論是電影版或話劇版的《青蛇》,同樣無法令人滿意。即使李碧華親自參與改編,似乎也無濟於事,真是莫名其妙。

原著以小青第一人稱的觀察,重新演繹《白蛇傳》的故事,情節與傳統故事楔合得天衣無縫,心理描寫細膩深刻,曾叫我手不釋卷,拍案叫絕。當然,在電影或舞臺上,未必可以照本宣科,但兩個改編本均花費大量篇幅以法海的眼睛看故事,名義上喚作《青蛇》,其實大可改作《法海》,為甚麼?

那也罷了。話劇版還有幾個相當嚴重的毛病,令我無法喜歡。

首先,此劇對白極多,而且不分幕,三個多小時的演出一氣呵成,只有中場休息十五分鐘。對演員來說,這當然是一大挑戰。幸而演員演出用心、排練純熟,幾乎一字不漏地流暢唸來,只有幾處把用字、句子的次序稍微調亂,但也不影響要表達的意思,實在難為他們了。

要聆聽、理解和消化那些冗長累贅生硬晦澀故弄玄虛似是而非不知所云的對白,實在非常吃力。對觀眾來說,何嘗不是一項嚴峻的考驗?

法海和他那一幫金山寺的弟子,嘮嘮叨叨沒完沒了,又像傳統戲曲的丑角一般,在戲文內外跳來竄去,一會兒插科打諢博人一粲,一會兒索性直接跟觀眾對話,令我完全無法投入看戲,莫非編導是《四川好人》作者Bertolt Brecht「離間效果」理論的忠實信徒?其中那個戴著黑框眼鏡、法號「濟著」的圓臉和尚,整天價跟在幾個主角後面陰魂不散,專門胡說八道逗人發笑--連拿著手機用粵語說要「打九九九報警」也跑出來了,看得我無明火起,恨不得想跳上去撕了他們的嘴,再一腳一個踢到錢塘江裡餵魚。

其次,編導野心太大,想涉獵的東西太多,結果顧此失彼,演出效果不算理想。編導在場刊裡開宗明義地說:「這是一部關於情慾、愛情與信仰的作品。」場刊另一篇導賞文章又說:「在《青蛇》當中,女性的情感、情慾與對個體信仰的探尋緊緊相依。」各位看官,你沒有眼花,我也沒有抄錯。事實上,情慾、愛情與信仰,大概至少足夠用三齣戲的篇幅來表達和探討。這是編導過分自信,還是深察人生苦短,只爭朝夕?

何況,怎樣利用情節、人物和他們之間的關係與互動情況等戲劇元素,來表達如此複雜而沉重的題目,進而啟發觀眾思考,本來就是非常艱巨的事情。自古希臘以來,西方文化對戲劇的態度異常認真,認為戲劇不只是娛樂,而是淨化人類靈魂的藝術,但畢竟選材和表現手法上,仍有很多自由發揮與取捨的餘地。若要「尋找女性自身」、「直面女性慾望」,何不直接把青蛇與白蛇對修煉成人、對愛情、對自我身體的態度作比較?安排法海喋喋不休的說教,金山寺眾僧猶如驅之不去的蒼蠅一般不斷以當代俗語提醒觀眾大家在二零一三年某月某日的演藝學院裡看戲,為的又是甚麼?請恕我資質愚魯,無法理解。

其實青、白二蛇的對白也多,小青更多,不是跟法海搶白,就是跟那些金山寺僧兼扮的臨安街坊打情罵俏;而且從她們的說話之中,不太感受到編導對「女性慾望」有甚麼思考和探索,令人很不耐煩。我更感興趣的是,兩條修煉多年的蛇兒,為甚麼想做人?為甚麼要做女性?是她們本來就是雌蛇,還是決定做人的時候因為某些原因選了女身?抑或做人的性別,與自己的原來形貌、物種,甚至修為深淺有關?

最後,此劇蛇足甚多,教人莫名其妙。最明顯者,就是最後為甚麼要介紹歷史上法海的身世,撇清他與民間傳說的關係?這跟「女性情慾、愛情與信仰」有何相干?雷峰塔倒,白蛇沒有出世,而是掉進六道輪迴,與許仙隔世重逢,又代表了甚麼?

中場休息過後,演到「盜仙草」、「水漫金山」、「斷橋」和「雷峰塔」幾段戲文,才算有點味道。不過,那些和尚輪流匯報江水以若干秒的速度漲到多少米,實在煞風景得緊。逗得觀眾笑聲震院又如何?好笑就等於好戲了麼?更何況,這些老掉了牙的點子,有甚麼好笑?觀眾取笑的是古代人說現代話,還是覺得這樣才有趣,戲文不會沉悶?

看那道行千年、一身本領的白素貞,只為一嚐做人的滋味,歷盡生關死劫,還要那麼卑微、委屈地匍伏在金山寺下,懇求法海網開一面,不由得一陣傷感。最後她獨力收拾爛攤子,自願走進雷峰塔下,那白色身影散發著令人不敢迫視的莊嚴、凜烈、義無反顧,猶如聖女一般。

然而袁泉演白素貞,限於劇本、戲份和其他因素,整體表現始終不及秦海璐的小青那麼搶眼。例如劇本在兩條蛇五百年的交情上沒有著墨太多,令白素貞和小青之間的親暱和默契不夠紮實,而這正是小青偷了姊姊的男人後,在橫刀奪愛之上另一點耐人尋味微妙糾葛的來源。不過,這不是說袁泉表現不佳,只是不夠秦海璐那麼出色。

秦海璐是全場唯一最投入角色和戲文的演員,而且她和袁泉一樣,始終謹守本分,沒有跳出戲文來跟觀眾搭訕。她扮演活潑佻皮、爽朗率直、少不更事,對人世、對情愛充滿好奇的小青,形神兼備,十分討好。就連那些模仿蛇類盤曲而行的身段,也做得自然靈動,非常神似。

總的來說,《青蛇》劇本累贅蕪蔓、缺乏重點,辜負了辛勤排練、用心演出的演員,也沒法把擬好的主題流暢明確地表達。印象中,近年內地不少劇作均有類似的毛病,想說的事情太多太雜,總是前無去路後有追兵似的非要一古腦兒說將出來不可,結果貪多嚼不爛,就像好拚命去吃自助餐一般,肚子撐得太飽,吃了甚麼、味道如何卻半點記不起來。那有甚麼意思?戲劇不應該這樣的。