Wednesday, 22 January 2014

粵劇新秀演出系列之重看《大鬧廣昌隆》

本來沒有打算重看《大鬧廣昌隆》,因為怪力亂神從來不是我那杯茶,而且我對這種以暴易暴、殃及池魚的復仇故事頗有反感。只因朋友興致勃勃,就陪她走一遭,順道看看今年換了演員,能否另創一番觀感。

結果戲文看將下來,還是無法叫我改觀。即使換了演員,也沒能把平庸惡俗的戲文演得較容易接受。這與個人演技高低無關,而是劇本的道德意識、場面編排等,實在值得商榷。平心而論,梁煒康扮演忠厚老實的小販劉君獻,仗著一腔義憤,為萍水相逢的女鬼廖小喬伸冤,徹夜不眠帶她告上官府,結果被縣老爺痛打八十大板,然後負傷跑到城隍廟買路票,又帶廖小喬到陸判座前哭訴,本來應該挺教人感動和欽佩的。可是聽他邊做邊唱在陰間(為甚麼買路票要到陰間?他做過甚麼來著?是否我記錯了?)的見聞,恐怖之極,不是上刀山下油鍋就是挑舌根睡釘床之類,頓覺大煞風景。都甚麼年代了?還靠恫嚇來向昧夫愚婦勸善麼?而且那一大段曲詞,語言乏味,態度說教,聽得我如坐針氈,雞皮疙瘩早掉滿了一地,暗想:「真難為了演員。」

抑惡揚善原是中國戲曲的優良傳統,然而怎樣說教才動聽,讓觀眾在聲色之娛裡感悟人生智慧、陶冶性情,達到潛移默化的目標,編劇還須費煞苦心。道貌岸然的平鋪直敘,固然通俗易懂,但觀眾也是有思想、有脾氣的凡夫俗子,看戲多是為了娛樂,這樣直言無隱的向他們說教,是否他們所樂於接受?會否沖淡了劇本的文學色彩和可供表演的戲劇本質?中國古典文學講究溫柔敦厚、婉轉有力的諷喻,不願直斥其非,顧全對方顏面,非深諳人情世故者不能為之。然而諷喻太隱晦的話,又可能達不到勸諫的作用。所以說,要編寫雅俗共賞、言之有物的劇本,從來難於登天。

中國文學素有「文」與「質」之爭,源於孔子「質勝文則野,文勝質則史。文質彬彬,然後君子」(《論語.雍也》)的說法。朱熹注釋云:「『彬彬』,猶『班班』,物相雜而適均之貌。」孔子本來說的是個人修養,指做人應該內心誠懇、樸實,但也須注意言辭(即個人學養的外在體現,也就是周世顯所謂「辭令寄於學問」者也),兩者並重,才稱得上君子。後來引伸到文學層面,「文」是外在的雕飾,指修辭;「質」是內在的本質,指內容、題旨。寫作時,兩者如何取捨與平衡,視乎作者的創作意圖、才情、筆力而定,難以一概而論。但看《大鬧廣昌隆》,則似乎近於「質勝文則野」,某些粗陋、直率之處,如上述那一大段「地府見聞記」,實在令人不太舒服。

然而這也罷了,那結局才是最叫人難受的,簡直情緒不安,幾乎需要心理輔導。話說那趙懷安立心不良,騙財騙色,實在死有餘辜。他叔父趙瓜齊獻計施詐,推波助瀾,也算該死。但趙懷安的妻子呢?戲文沒說她做過半點壞事,對丈夫的惡行似乎也一無所知,為甚麼要她陪死?當晚聽到有觀眾以為趙妻只是嚇得暈了過去,但劉君獻自言發現了三名死者,顯然把趙妻也算進去了。也許因為趙妻死得太冤枉,眼見三人屍橫就地,竟無半點大快人心之意,反覺不寒而悚,厭惡陡生。即使明知「看故不要駁故」,仍忍不住心中嘀咕:「廖小喬為報情仇,連害三條人命,趙懷安叔姪是元兇首惡,那也罷了;趙妻是無辜的,她的冤魂又該找誰報仇去?」何況廖小喬是羞憤自盡,不是趙懷安派人謀殺,她能否全然以受害人自居,甚至理直氣壯地傷害無辜,似乎也值得深思。

因此,我至今不明白,為甚麼有觀眾居然把《大鬧廣昌隆》當作詼諧、「生鬼」的喜劇來看。儘管劉君獻的舉止頗為滑稽--如在縣衙告狀途中,以及廖小喬向陸判哭訴時,忍不住呼呼大睡,鼾聲如雷,的確相當有趣;但縱觀全劇怨毒淒厲、玉石俱焚的氣氛,我真的半點也笑不出來。

附錄:《大鬧廣昌隆》演出劇照

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

粵劇新秀演出系列之《長阪坡》

油麻地戲院新秀匯演第二回合,轉眼又已結束。臨別秋波,看了一場近年少見、取材自《三國演義》的《長阪坡》【註一】。據說早期粵劇原有不少取材自歷史小說《三國演義》的劇目,周瑜、趙雲、呂布等更是小武行當(專門扮演年輕武將或豪俠的演員類型)慣演的人物。近數十年來,粵劇較少「三國戲」,印象中最為人熟悉的,大概要算林家聲三十多年前開山的《周瑜》了。所以油麻地戲院上演《長阪坡》,無論如何也是值得一看的。

一如很多「三國戲」,《長阪坡》是人物眾多的群戲,動用了十多位新秀演員,前半部演呂布兵敗下邳(《三國演義》第十九回)、曹操與劉備煮酒論英雄(第二十一回),後半部演趙子龍百萬軍中藏阿斗(第四十一回)、張飛喝斷長阪橋(第四十二回)。其實故事兩半的時間、地點、人物均無重大關連,如今只靠曹操和劉備略作連繫。如果觀眾想知道趙子龍在長阪坡之役單騎救主、一舉成名的來龍去脈,恐怕要大失所望;把此劇當作不相連貫的折子戲薈萃來欣賞,可能更合適。

既然是群戲,每位演員的戲份自然相應減少,但發揮的機會是削弱了或是更集中,則視乎演員能否充分把握稍縱即逝的時機展現人物獨特、鮮明的面貌,讓觀眾留下深刻印象。有時候某個角色戲份雖少,甚至只有一小段,只要把握機會盡情發揮,總能吸引觀眾注意。

新秀演員對藝術的誠意與努力無庸置疑,然而演藝功力的深淺、身體狀況、現場環境如舞臺大小等因素,卻足以影響表演效果與觀感。此劇連演兩場,從第二晚的表演看來,幾位演員抱恙上陣,專業精神可嘉,卻難免影響了唱、做水平,十分可惜。例如譚穎倫勾了一張大白臉演曹操,可能是感冒了,聲線很沙啞,音量也比平日減弱了,影響了表現曹操滿腹機謀、盛氣凌人的性格。林汶聲演唱向來聲線清朗、吐字明晰,可是她似乎也有點不太舒服,聲音略帶粗澀,尤其在第二場演繹一大段古腔的〈陳宮罵曹〉,更見吃力,也唱不出陳宮臨刑的慷慨激昂來。身體不適,誰也不願,觀眾也要體諒,但因此而影響了演出,始終是無可奈何的現實。

另外,劇場不設字幕,若觀眾聽不清楚陳宮古腔唱段的內容,就難以理解曹操為何先殺陳宮,後收張遼。即使以「喜怒無常」來解釋,似乎也說不過去。古腔演唱的語音,是從明代兩廣通行的舊式官話演變而來,既非粵語,也非國語,觀眾聽不懂不是他們水平低,或者不懂戲,而是真箇力有不逮。只要設身處地從觀眾的角度考慮,不難明白我們的沮喪和憤怒。前年看《霸王別姬》〈月下追信〉那一段古腔已經領教過,聽不懂兼束手無策的感覺著實難受。希望當局認真考慮,日後演出再有古腔唱段時,務必加設字幕,幫助觀眾理解表演內容。功德無量,阿彌陀佛。

另有些演員則頗覺拘謹,看來就像要把一招一式演練完整、一字一句演唱無誤,在刻劃人物的性格和身分方面略嫌不足。例如郭俊聲扮演的呂布,雖說劇情主要描述他迷戀貂蟬、剛愎自用、貪生怕死等不良形象,但《三國演義》也曾盛讚他「人中呂布,馬中赤兔」,似乎也應該表現一下呂奉先天下無雙的丈夫氣概。又如關凱珊的張遼,受曹操招降之際還是目光如炬,與戲文說他眼見陳宮被斬,遲疑半晌才答允投降曹操的心情不太相配。其實「三國戲」絕對不易應付,不只唱、唸、做、打要求甚高,最難的是在滿臺文臣、武將之中,怎樣教觀眾不看場刊或字幕,光憑演員的裝扮和演技逐一細辨哪個是徐晃、哪個是張遼;哪個是簡雍、哪個是糜芳【註二】。京劇素來擅長「三國戲」,對每個人物的臉譜、穿戴、兵刃等均有嚴格規定,讓觀眾一目瞭然。但粵劇似乎沒有這麼精巧的劃分,要讓觀眾分辨得了誰是誰,對演員來說,不啻是一大考驗。當然,塑造人物的關鍵還在於劇本有沒有充分的描寫。如果劇本欠佳,演員也難以施展,只能按照劇情,盡量設計合適的表演方法,藉以彌補劇本的瑕疵,令人物形象更豐滿。

若問全劇演繹最上乘的人物,竊以為是司徒翠英的劉備和李沛妍的糜夫人。平心而論,劇中劉備的戲份較零碎,出場雖多,但未算十分完整。猶幸Candice在〈陳宮罵曹〉、〈煮酒論英雄〉和〈攜民渡江〉幾場均能把握重點,呈現劉備偽善狡詐、工於心計、取信於臣民等複雜的個性。就如橫了張飛一眼,阻止他衝動魯莽之類的細節,也有助表現劉備與張飛的交情,令人看得著實愜意。沛妍演繹糜夫人,曲子、唸白俱不多,但勝在做工細膩自然,徬徨危急之中,不失皇叔夫人的尊貴氣度,相當難得。她始終沒忘記糜夫人初為人母的身分,在沒有戲的時候,經常照看懷裡小孩的動靜;即使身處危難之中,仍然步步為營,以保護孩子為先,塑造人物極具說服力,尤其值得讚賞。

不到二十歲的吳立熙扮演猛將趙雲,身手了得,勁道十足,只是邊做邊唱的時候顯得有點左支右絀。但他畢竟年紀尚輕,只要繼續痛下苦功,相信假以時日,可有所成。最可惜是他個子太小,臉上也稚氣未除,站在劉備、張飛身邊,氣勢陡然給比了下去。可見演員陣容如何配搭,也應有一番講究。

附錄:《長阪坡》演出劇照

【註一】原劇名「阪」字採用左「土」右「反」的寫法,可惜電腦安裝了香港俗字字體也顯示不了,只好改用以「阝」為旁的「阪」字暫代。左「土」右「反」的寫法收錄於《廣韻》、《康熙字典》、《辭海》等辭典,陳壽《三國志》卷九〈曹仁傳〉原文也有用到,大概不是異體字,只是中文電腦系統缺少此字而已。

【註二】「糜」,《三國志》卷三十八〈麋竺傳〉原作「麋」,今從《三國演義》。「麋」與「糜」形近義歧,俱為姓氏。

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Importance of Being Grateful

On my way to work this morning, I came across this new advertisement of MTR Corporation, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary this September.

What caught my eye was the caption, which is not available in the web site version:

“When MTR opened in 1979, dad spared no time to take me for a ride.
Thirty-five years later, now I will take him around whenever I have time.”

It reminds me of my father, who took the family for a ride when MTR began operations on 30 September 1979. I was then a six-year-old just promoted to Primary One. We took a bus to board a train at Shek Kip Mei, the first station of the Kwun Tong Line, and travelled all the way to Kwun Tong, the end of the line. I saw nothing special when the train dashed through the densely populated housing estates and factory buildings along the overhead rails from Kowloon Bay to Kwun Tong, but the experience was certainly eye-opening because I had never been to that part of Kowloon before the ride. All I still remember is that we were given a souvenir booklet with a specific slot to put our used ticket in it. The souvenir was long lost. So was my father, who passed away when I was fifteen.

Bygones are bygones. There is nothing to be sad about really. Tears didn’t come to my eyes, although I did feel a tint of loss and pity. I can no longer take my father around, nor my mother, who now refuses to go for a long walk due to weakened legs.

Apparently the advertisement is meant to be nostalgic, and I couldn’t help thinking through what had happened over the past thirty-five years. I grew up from a young girl into a middle-aged woman. I was carefree and dependent, but I am now on my own to take care of those I love. I am thankful to all those who have given me their hand, and happy to be able to reciprocate.

For me, there is another message in the advertisement that might not be intended – the importance of being grateful. While many of us would at least pay lip service to thank our parents, I wonder how many out there would be grateful for the fact that we have one of the world’s best, if not the best, mass transit systems in Hong Kong. In a few Asian or European countries, developed or developing, where I have travelled, their mass transit systems are either incomparable to what we have here, or simply heartless copycats. It is true that MTR’s technical problems seem to have increased over the past few years (actually I’m not sure because this is just an impression based on the number of news reports heard or read instead of properly audited figures), which the Corporation must not procrastinate to resolve, yet it will be unfair to focus on the problems but nothing else in one’s judgement.

It is always easy to point an accusing finger, because it provides no solution to the problems. It is always hard to be grateful, because it is a confession of receipt of a favour, and, to a certain extent, an acquiesce of our weakness or dependence on the others. But what is the problem of admitting so? Being grateful doesn’t mean we will become brainless supporters of anyone or any company. Saying “thank you” doesn’t take away our right to criticise on the grounds of reason. Corporations are actually a bunch of systematically organised people, they need positive reinforcement to do better. Punishment may also work, but it is often not as effective, and there is a high risk of being counter-productive, as B F Skinner’s famous study showed.

I’m not saying I’m totally satisfied with the MTR service. I just believe it is unfair to turn a blind eye to what it does well if we want to be treated fairly in the first place. It is a matter of mutual respect – the key to effective dialogue and engagement. And this is something money – your fare – can’t buy.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Sir Run Run Shaw

Chinese film and television tycoon Sir Run Run Shaw died last Tuesday morning at 107.

It is hardly exaggerating to say that Sir Run Run was one of the most influential men in modern China. His company's dominance in Chinese film and television for at least half a century has shaped imaginations and reminiscence of traditional China of millions of people at home and abroad. Perhaps not so much so in mainland China until the early 1980s, but certainly in Hong Kong, Taiwan and countless Chinese communities spreading across Southeast Asia and North America since the 1950s.

There is no point to deny that I have grown up being fed with TVB's melodramas, in particular those in ancient costumes. Only a toddler who hardly knew how to speak eloquently, I was addicted to watching Chinese Folklore, short dramas based on popular Chinese folklore that lasted no more than five episodes for each story. In retrospect, the series was most likely my first lesson in Chinese literature. Perhaps this is also why I never had any serious problem memorising all those similar plots of classical fiction and drama for my Chinese literature class more than 10 years later.

Folklore aside, what I found most addictive was martial arts drama, especially those adapted from the bestsellers by Louis Cha. The Legend of the Condor Heroes starred by Barbara Yung and Felix Wong was my all-time favourite, although the original novel is far from being so. Only until the early 1990s when I had a better chance to learn about the golden age of post-war Hong Kong cinema did I realise that TVB's success was essentially built on the solid foundation of Shaw Brothers, which earned its reputation for its martial arts and Chinese folklore in huangmeidiao genres.

To me, the remarkable success of Sir Run Run's film and television empire is more cultural than economic. From my personal experience, his productions have defined, if restricted, my imaginations of traditional China in one way or another. Make-up and costumes, for example, are the most visible. If I never had any interest in history, I am most likely to be one of those many who believe what they see on television is a truthful account of the past, or at least pretty close. More importantly, when I watched foreign productions of the same genre, many of them look like a sore in the eye at the first glance, simply because they are very much different to the Shaw model, if I may. This is too obvious when comparing any TVB's martial arts drama based on Louis Cha novels with those produced in mainland China. It has nothing to do with the lavish sets and costumes, screenplay and cinematography adopted by more recent, mainland Chinese productions. The flavour is indeed very much different. Only until then did I realise that I have taken the Shaw model for granted for too many years, and thus have to make an extra effort to battle my prejudice in order to truly appreciate foreign works of the same genre.

Some visitors to this blog are very spot on to comment that his cultural success is more coincidental than anything. I can’t agree more. Indeed, Sir Run Run was a businessman inside out. Offering what appeals to the audience to maximise profits seems to be his paramount concern. Comparing Shaw Brothers’ films to those of MP&GI, Shaw Brothers’ major competitor in Mandarin cinema during the 1950s and early 1960s, their differences are too obvious to be ignored. Both companies have attained remarkable commercial and cultural success, but few would agree that their works actually differed in fundamental, artistic terms such as aesthetic taste, temperament and values.

Although personally I do not feel strongly about the demise of the old man, which could have happened any time, I do feel compelled to thank him for whatever his entertainment empire has achieved, for better or worse. Thank you, sir. May you rest in peace. You will be remembered not by how much you owned, but how many lives you have shaped or changed in post-war Hong Kong and beyond.

Monday, 6 January 2014

崑劇《續琵琶》香港首演

去年夏天,看不著「阮兆輝血汗氍毹六十年」匯演系列中阮兆輝與陳好逑合演的粵劇《文姬歸漢》,只能從雜誌報道中略窺盛況,嘆恨至今。沒料到事隔半年,竟有機會在香港一睹取材於相同歷史故事、消聲匿跡多年的崑劇《續琵琶》,不禁喜出望外。

據說《續琵琶》是北方崑曲劇院近年重新發掘和整理的劇目,由曹公的祖父曹寅編撰,絕跡舞臺已逾三百年,如今僅存手抄殘本三十五齣。北崑將於一月二十日在嶺南大學陳德泰大會堂搬演其中五齣折子戲,是為此劇於香港首度演出。對於我這種嗜史好事之徒,光是這份失而復得、重見天日的歷史意義,已經足以吸引我跑去朝聖。至於北崑憑此劇屢獲殊榮,去年更橫掃「中國戲劇節」三項大獎等浩大聲勢,我倒是處之泰然。此劇得獎是實至名歸,抑或言過其實,還待看過戲文之後再作定奪。對於一般觀眾而言,是次演出免費入場,只須上網登記留座,可能才是最吸引的。

那麼,到底《續琵琶》說的是甚麼故事呢?

嶺南大學為是次首演而設的Facebook專頁介紹,五齣折子戲包括〈探獄〉、〈被掠〉、〈感夢〉、〈製拍〉和〈臺宴〉。綜合從網上看到的資料,這五折的劇情大致如下:

東漢末年,董卓被誅,舉朝歡慶。席間蔡邕眼見漢室飄搖,不禁嘆喟。王允大怒,指蔡邕曾應董卓徵召為官,為董卓同黨,拘之下獄。蔡邕臨終將女兒蔡文姬託付學生董祀,並盼女兒繼承遺志,續修漢史(〈探獄〉)。

董卓舊部擁兵自重,勾結匈奴左賢王進犯長安。左賢王兵過陳留,擄去蔡文姬(〈被掠〉)。

蔡文姬被俘後,路經王昭君青塚哭祭,卻夢見王昭君勸戒她受父遺囑,若尋短見,令遺志落空,是為不孝;故須留匈奴十年,日後自可還鄉(〈感夢〉)。

十年後,蔡文姬在匈奴聽到胡笳之聲淒切慘厲,有感於心,寫下《悲憤詩》和《胡笳十八拍》等千古絕唱(〈製拍〉)。

曹操築成銅雀臺,歡宴文武,王粲亦舉薦董祀。曹操遂命董祀助曹彰擊敗匈奴,迎返蔡文姬(〈臺宴〉)。

從網上資料來看,此劇的欣賞重點除女主角蔡文姬外,更在於曹操。古典小說、戲曲裡的曹操,一向是大白臉的反派,由淨角應工;但在《續琵琶》裡卻是以一般化妝的鬚生扮演,行當和造型均頗有新鮮感。所以即使要蹺一堂日文課去見識見識,應該也值得的。

Friday, 3 January 2014

Letting Go

Since New Year's Eve I have been tidying up and re-organising my bookshelves. Five half-full cartons of books and old film collections, plus three big boxes of CDs and DVDs, were documented and put into external storage. Another two full cartons of unwanted books were donated to a social enterprise serving the less privileged neighbourhood two MTR stations away.

Even after two full days of back-breaking work, only about 10 per cent has been put into storage and another 10 per cent given away or disposed of. Yet it is rewarding to see my library being more specialised, reflecting a unique personal choice and taste. Indeed, the hardest part hasn't begun – what to do with the sizeable collection of magazines, ticket stubs and programme booklets of performances and film shows over the past some 20 years? Just hope this last episode of the exercise can be closed before the festive season of Chinese New Year begins in mid-January with a series of Cantonese opera performances.

Honestly, I am still not quite sure what has driven me to take this up as the first resolution of the New Year and get it done so quickly. Merely it feels like it is time to clear things up a bit, and there is no point to wait any longer. I am not sure if it is a subconscious urge of ageing or God's hint at something imminent, but reviewing what is at hand and what not seems a good and sensible way of getting started.

Somewhat to my own surprise, I don't feel as attached to my collections as I thought I would have been. There was little hesitation to decide which book to keep, to stay or to donate. It was also a great relief to see my treasures being sealed in cartons and left at the second-hand shop, where they will find new owners and carry on their mission of educating and enlightening souls.

To let go something one treasures is never easy, as many of you can feel or imagine. It does not necessarily have anything to do with one's personality. All it matters is the determination to combat the satisfaction (or should I say inertia?) of ownership. Our culture teaches us to value possession and lament, if condemn, disposal. Holding on to something is almost praised at all times, while loss is always presented in the melancholic or negative light. While this resonates well with human nature and sentiments, there is always another perspective to look at the matter.

As the Chinese saying goes, "Nothing new will arrive until the old is gone." The clearance exercise just reminds me how much wisdom is compressed in the proverb. Taking a close look at what I have and what not feels like a quick but deep review of what I have and have not changed over the years, as reflected in the shift and persistence of reading interests. While the journey for knowledge will hopefully continue in the years to come, a regular, though not too frequent, exercise of disposal and re-organisation does seem more beneficial than it appears. Letting go is not necessarily bad, when you know what is worthy of keeping and what not.

I hope I can learn this first lesson of the year and apply the wisdom to other non-physical items than books, although it is always easier said than done.