Monday, 22 February 2016

元宵即景

三五又團欒,穹蒼未見憐。
春寒掀細雨,疊霧閉嬋娟。
莫憶黃粱暖,當知琥珀酸。
開懷圖一醉,酒罄不成眠。

Sunday, 21 February 2016

粵劇新秀演出系列之《無情寶劍有情天》

本年度「粵劇新秀演出系列」第四演期最後兩晚,上演林家聲、陳好逑開山的名劇《無情寶劍有情天》。我看了壓軸一場。

《無情寶劍有情天》劇情跌宕、人物性格鮮明、表演文武俱全,包羅了一齣好戲的必備元素;但看過幾次不同演員陣容演出此劇,始終談不上喜歡。究其原因,大概是人物性格缺陷太多,故事格局狹隘,令人看完心情鬱悶。

此劇韋、呂兩家世仇的兒女相戀為故事主線,跟莎士比亞名劇《羅密歐與茱麗葉》的構思很相近,但情節和結局則大相逕庭--羅密歐和茱麗葉雙雙身亡,卻促成了兩家世仇和解,彷彿莎翁苦口婆心地告訴觀眾:真摯的愛情不僅可以超越生死,也可以化干戈為玉帛;儘管生命結束了,仍可彰顯崇高的道德價值,使人對千瘡百孔的世界尚存一絲希望。韋重輝和呂悼慈有情人終成眷屬,但多場為報私仇的戰役(大規模械鬥?)已殺傷兩家不少人命,雙方家長也到了臨終之時才勉強認可兩人的關係。我不想懷疑他們青梅竹馬的情誼,但這段感情極不純粹,也經不起考驗,充滿了猜疑、怨恨、計算和陰謀,看得人滿不是味兒。最後他們一生一世的許諾,居然是用千萬人的性命和鮮血換來的,令這理應美滿的結局飽含苦澀與冤屈,連欣慰也談不上,遑論喜悅了。素來喜歡替古人或戲文角色擔憂的好事之徒如我,更難免懷疑兩人結褵之後,能否化解韋、呂兩家的新仇舊怨。

既然戲文如此,只好倚仗演員發揮補闕拾遺的功夫,使人物沒那麼惹人反感,或者把一些疏漏的細節綴補起來。這可以怎樣做到呢?沒想到居然在英國National Theatre現場錄影轉播、由當今炙手可熱男演員Benedict Cumberbatch主演的莎翁名劇《王子復仇記》中讓我找到端倪。

他在演出前的專訪中特別引述Hamlet的名言:To be or not to be, that is the question,指出演員必須想清楚為甚麼Hamlet會這樣說,因為演員怎樣理解這句話,就決定了他會塑造一個怎樣的Hamlet。訪問中又剪輯了Cumberbatch到一家中學觀看幾個南亞裔學生表演《王子復仇記》選段的情形--只見幾個學生一字排開,輪流踏前朗聲說著上述名言,就像Hamlet內心的諸般想法紛至沓來,然後站在中間、飾演Hamlet的男學生頹然倒在地上。這個構思相當新穎,而且誠如Cumberbatch一針見血地指出,最後把張力集中到Hamlet身上,使觀眾深深感受到他的猶豫難決,很是精采。

也許有看倌要投訴我離題了,但嘮叨了那麼多,不是無的放矢的。我想說的是,自第二個三年計劃於去年七月開始以來,從選演劇目可以推測,主辦當局對新晉演員揣摩和表達人物的能力提高了要求,而且相當嚴格。以我本年度看過的劇目為例,《琵琶血染漢宮花》、《夢斷香銷四十年》、《香羅塚》、《宋江怒殺閻婆惜》、《紅菱巧破無頭案》和這齣《無情寶劍有情天》,平心而論都是一些劇本略有瑕疵,需要演員發揮演技加以修飾的劇目,即所謂「人包戲」。這些劇目跟《獅吼記》、《紫釵記》之類針線細密、人物形象完整的劇目不同,倘若演員稍一不慎,很容易把戲文的弱點暴露無遺;而演藝功力的深淺,更會大幅影響劇目的可觀程度。例如《紫釵記》劇本結構嚴謹、人物鮮明,只要唱、唸和身段不出岔子,表演就不會難看(有多好看是另一個層次的問題)。可是《香羅塚》的人物性格缺陷甚多,如果演員未能深思熟慮,就難以說服於觀眾,某些場面也可能淪為一場鬧劇。因此,我估計選演這些需要「人包戲」的劇目,就是為了加強新晉演員揣摩和表達人物的能力。畢竟,「人包戲」是戲曲表演的常態,優秀劇本固然難求,唱、做、唸、打等表演技巧也是一般觀眾最重視的元素。

儘管戲曲表演礙於程式、舞臺和觀眾期望等各種限制,未必可以像英國那些中學生一樣別出心裁、大膽創新,但相信深入研讀劇本,像Cumberbatch那樣多問「為甚麼這麼說」、「為甚麼這樣做」,藉以提升揣摩和表達人物的能力,仍是值得借鑑的。

附錄:《無情寶劍有情天》演出劇照

Friday, 19 February 2016

粵劇新秀演出系列之《紅菱巧破無頭案》

觀眾看戲,總希望演員感情投入,充分表達劇中人的喜怒哀樂,從而打動自己。然而根據我的觀賞經驗,演員的「投入」也有不同層次。最超凡的境界,當然是演員與角色融為一體,不分你我,讓觀眾真切感受到他就是劇中人,把處境、心事娓娓道來,絲毫感覺不到他在演戲。最淺的一層,就是演員使盡渾身解數,七情上面、一絲不苟,觀眾很讚賞他的認真態度與賣力演出,但始終保持著一點理智,不會誤以為他就是劇中人,始終清楚明白自己在欣賞一場嚴謹、優質的表演。其實要做到這基本的層次,已屬不易;但如想精益求精,自然要朝著更高更遠的目標邁進──臺上臺下、戲裡戲外都一樣。

早前看唐先生的中期名作《紅菱巧破無頭案》,頗有驚喜,正是因為看到個別演員進步甚多,距離最高境界又接近了些。

若問此劇令人印象最深刻的,首推飾演楊柳嬌的唐宛瑩。戲文裡的楊柳嬌是個紅杏出牆的孀婦,間接造成無頭凶案,亦連累了小姑與她的情郎,唐先生對楊柳嬌的褒貶毀譽,可謂呼之欲出。然而唐宛瑩演來從容不迫、收放自如,說話和身段的分寸也相當準確,深得外鬆內緊的訣竅。「外鬆內緊」四字看似尋常,其實極難做到;除基本表演技巧達到一定程度外,也端賴演員的悟心、態度與經驗。喜見唐宛瑩略窺堂奧,著實欣慰。希望她繼續努力,尤須注意演唱的音準與咬字,則成功可期。

此外,飾演左維明的司徒翠英也保持水準,表演的細緻、寸度總是教人放心。她與唐宛瑩合演經典名段〈對花鞋〉,兩人默契不錯,動作、走位不差毫釐,眉梢眼角也活瓏活現,令人看得相當愜意。林芯菱郭俊聲分飾楊柳嬌的小姑蘇玉桂和左維明的門生柳子卿,戲份不多但唱、做繁重,喜見兩人悉力以赴,可是唱功與情感表達仍有待加強。

資深丑角陳鴻進客串秦三峰,唸白、動作幅度較之前大為收斂,可謂恰如其分,更是令人喜出望外。然而轉念一想,所謂「無丑不成戲」,丑角是戲曲的重要行當,相傳梨園老祖唐明皇當年粉墨登場也是扮演丑角,並非英俊多情的小生,如今新秀匯演經常情商資深演員客串戲份吃重的丑角,平白放棄培養新晉的機會,始終不是辦法。我深知不少演員和觀眾瞧不起丑角,認為那只是插科打諢的閒人,比不上俊男美女的小生與花旦賞心悅目。但真正懂戲的演員和觀眾,不會輕視丑角的地位、分量與價值。事實上,丑角在戲曲史上舉足輕重,從早期專為君王和貴族表演的俳優,到唐、宋流行的參軍戲,打諢搞笑不只是為了取悅觀眾,更是為了達成諷諭、勸諫的目的,足以影響朝廷施政。如今不少劇種仍有丑角獨領風騷的劇目,與生、旦不遑多讓,相信粵劇也本該如此。但願各位藝術總監可以多費一點心,引領新晉和觀眾重新發掘丑角──甚至其他少受重視的行當──之美,促進粵劇的長遠和健康發展。

附錄:《紅菱巧破無頭案》演出劇照

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Lunar New Year Hike (Part 3)

Based on what I have read over the years and what has been excavated from historical sites around Hong Kong, particularly the construction site of the Shatin-Central Link in To Kwa Wan, I am more convinced than ever that Hong Kong was not necessarily a barren rock as the British set their feet on the shores of Hong Kong Island. At the dawn of the Song Dynasty in the second half of the tenth century, Hong Kong had been a busy transit of international vessels making their way to China through the roaring waters. In different parts of Hong Kong, there were also considerably developed settlements with people engaged in various occupations.

Pearl collection was one of the long lost businesses of Hong Kong. The other better known one, and official as well, was salt production.

So where were the pearls found? The Kingdom of Southern Han (917-971 AD) founded a pearl collection site called Meichuandou in 963 AD, where residents were forced to collect pearls in the deep waters barehandedly. Up to 8,000 troops were sent to station around the area. Although it was widely believed that Meichuandou was located somewhere near Tai Po today, I never came across any evidence in the primary sources. Some said it was in Yuen Chau Tsai, some others insisted it was Sam Mun Tsai.

I still have no idea whatsoever who is right, but found one more vote for Sam Mun Tsai in a leisure walk there on the third and last holiday of the New Year.

This was my first visit to Sam Mun Tsai, although I have heard about it for many years. Neither did I have any clue whatsoever where it exactly is until arriving at the small private pier looking over to the Tolo Harbour after the 45-minute minibus ride from Tai Po Market station. It is a remote corner at the tip of a small peninsula stretching out from Tai Po, with the opening of the Tolo Harbour right at its south. Facing southward, you can see a suffocating fortress of residential blocks under Ma On Shan on the left, and the densely built slopes of The Chinese University of Hong Kong on the right.

But the area should not be called Sam Mun Tsai, at least before 1965. Its original name should be Yim Tin Tsai, sharing the same name with an abandoned Hakka village on an outlying island in Sai Kung, where most of the indigenous villagers were named Chan and devout Catholics. According to the photo exhibition at the entrance to the Sam Mun Tsai village, what we see now are government-built settlements for fishermen relocated from Sam Mun Tsai near Pak Sha Tau, Sai Kung, when the Plover Cove Reservoir was built. The village, literally known as Sam Mun Tsai Fishermen's New Village, was open in 1965 by then-governor Sir David Trench.

The village was dotted with two-storey, long-stretched residential blocks housing about 20 homes each. At a glance, the flats look pretty small at no more than 300 square feet per unit. It is noteworthy that many homes have a hand-painted red cross above their doors, probably indicating that the dwellers are Christian (not sure if they are Catholics or Protestants though).

The reason of visiting Sam Mun Tsai was not so much about an old resettlement of the fishermen, probably the oldest occupation in Hong Kong, but Ma Shi Chau Special Area of the Hong Kong Geopark. Although I can't recall anything learned from the geography class, the 30-minute walk to Ma Shi Chau was quite refreshing. Along the way you will never lose sight of all the peaks of Pat Sin Leng and the enormous white statue of Avalokiteśvara of Tsz Shan Monastery in the backdrop. The extensive fish farms, fishing boats and nets in the quiet waters beneath Pat Sin Leng only serve to remind us where Hong Kong had originally come from.

But the walk could be somewhat uneasy for some, especially in the Lunar New Year holidays, because the hills were covered with countless graves and tombstones of the deceased villagers. The cemetery stretches from the hillsides surrounding the abandoned village school and radiates along the slopes of Sam Mun Tsai in all directions. You simply can't avoid eye contact with the graves even if you look out to the far.

Walking on a well-built stone path cutting across the grave-filled slopes bring visitors to Ma Shi Chau, a densely vegetated island full of volcanic rocks dating back to 2.5 million to 2.9 million years ago, the second oldest in Hong Kong. Most of those rocks are distinctively red in colour, some as much as the clay courts in the French Open, quite different from what we used to see around Hong Kong. Some of them even look black, covered with substances similar to coal, formed by fossilised plants as a result of biological and geological processes before the first human beings were conceived.

Indeed, Ma Shi Chau was pretty well protected with rugged, undisturbed shores and vibrant marine life, if you pay attention close enough. It feels somewhat surreal to see tiny crabs and lobsters moving around the gaps and holes of the millions-of-years-old rocks under your feet, where artificial evidence of human civilisation are lying around across the waters. But the nature is not always benevolent, as we should always bear in mind. In fact, the tombolo linking Sam Mun Tsai and Ma Shi Chau is littered with dead, rotten fish of all sizes and huge heaps of shattered sea shells, indicating how destructive, and ruthless the forces of nature can possibly be. This is because the tombolo will be flooded by rising tides every day, cutting off access from Sam Mun Tsai to Ma Shi Chau.

After all, humans are but part of the nature. For centuries and millennia we have shamelessly claimed supremacy over other fellow co-habitants, and it is now time to develop a greater sense of responsibility by making this world more sustainable and suitable for habitation. I don't know if extinction is inescapable for all forms of life, as some may believe, but there is little doubt that we, the depleters and destructors of the natural world, should compensate for the damages we have caused. Apparently I have no crystal ball to see for how much longer the current landscape will survive, relatively untouched by human settlements, if destruction. And I can only hope my disappointments and frustrations with many aspects of life here in Hong Kong would vanish in no time. The crepuscular rays, nicknamed Rays from Jesus in Cantonese, from afar when we left Sam Mun Tsai were by all means welcome as a token of hope and encouragement.

We simply need some indication of hope and direction to get out of the darkness.

Lunar New Year Hike (Part 2)

Never really interested in plants, I have very little knowledge about trees, flowers and other forms of vegetation in the countryside. But I do enjoy the natural, sensual pleasure of seeing beautiful flowers, especially plum blossoms. The romantic connotations nurtured by Chinese literature over the past millennia have become conditioned reflexes of the brain that attach an extra layer of humanistic enjoyment. But it is equally enjoyable to watch blossoms beaming in fine weather.

Driven by the urge for natural beauty, I joined a group of friends to hike to Tai Cham Koi in Sai Kung on the second day of the New Year. Pardon for my ignorance, it was more strenuous than expected, and seems to deserve more than a three-out-of-five-star rating in terms of difficulty. For almost two hours at noon we ascended more than 400 metres by climbing the slippery gravel slopes, almost non-stop, to reach the highest hill in the vicinity. While I must admit that I was terribly out of shape due to the lack of physical exercises over the past two months, the bulky backpack stuffed with a full-framed camera, a telephoto lens, two bottles of water and two jackets was undoubtedly a heavy burden. The weather was surprisingly pleasant, with the sun beaming unreservedly in the blue, cloudless sky. The unexpected heat simply stretched the limits of my physical fitness even further.

Notwithstanding the physical challenges, the hike was quite enjoyable. Looking back at the green peaks, ridges and valleys sprawling across the sea dotted with nameless islands is indeed refreshing and revitalising. We could even see the peaks of Ma On Shan and Pat Sin Leng, as well as the enormous white statue of Avalokiteśvara (usually translated as Goddess of Mercy) of Tsz Shan Monastery.

Indeed, the hike was meant for having a glimpse of the Chinese New Year Flowers, but we were somewhat disappointed as there was only one bush of good-looking blossoms along the way. Altogether we came across three, but the last two were not as good as the first. I only managed to take a few snapshots, trying to give my souring leg muscles a break, before moving on.

Before setting off in the morning, I was greeted with an unwelcomed surprise – news of the riot in Mong Kok at late night on the Lunar New Year Day. Based on the news reports and rumours on the internet, it seems only God knows what the true trigger was. Like the Umbrella Movement two years ago, people are further divided for what they choose to believe, and their refusal to open up the ears and the mind trying to understand those who disagree with them. Most people are too eager to preach their own belief without a second thought – to what extent what they believe is true and justified, given the extremely limited credible information?

Neither the natural beauty of the landscape nor the physical stretch of the hike could spare me from the despair and indignation watching the news of the riot.

Hiking route on Google Map

Monday, 8 February 2016

Lunar New Year Hike (Part 1)

For me, the Year of the Goat/Ram/Sheep was full of despair and distress. I can’t even remember what was memorable but positive. Of course I should be grateful that everything seems to have settled by now, but there is still a long way to gather myself together. Indeed, I could barely do so even though I know deep inside the rough tides have yet to be calmed. While it is fully acknowledged that there is no way out to the problem but to sweep it under the carpet and let it rot, the mere thought of having an untreated scar really bothers me.

On this first day of the Year of the Monkey, I didn’t even have any intention whatsoever to climb the Lion Rock. After some pondering I forced myself to have a light hike on Lung Fu Shan and Victoria Peak, starting from the junction of Hatton Road and Kotewall Road. I used to take this trail to Victoria Peak some 20 years ago, but haven’t been there for more than a decade. To my surprise, the 45-minute walk (including a detour to the abandoned battery in the pinewood on Lung Fu Shan) was much more exhausting than I can remember. Perhaps I’m growing old, or just getting seriously out of shape. The burden of a camera and two lenses should have little to blame.

It was an extraordinarily good day with warm sunshine, bright blue sky and a refreshing breeze. The non-stop uphill walk on the slope of about 30-45 degrees was inevitably body-heating, but it became quite chilly on Lugard Road when the winter monsoon wind from the northeast confronted visitors appreciating the spectacular view of Kowloon across Victoria Harbour.

In traditional Chinese literature, climbing the heights for a spectacular view of the far and wide values way more than the breath-taking experience. It also offers an opportunity to think about oneself, and the society in which one lives. Looking down from afar does not spare us from all the problems and questions in reality. Distance just takes us away from the meticulous, trivial daily chores and remind us of the big picture. It calms us down and helps us re-focus on what is truly important. Perhaps this is why many poets said they were ‘afraid’ of climbing the heights, usually a tower but also somewhere up in the hills where the city was visible. Scenery always reminds us of the beauty of our dwelling place, and it also presses us for a solution to the countless problems plaguing it to maintain its beauty.

Staring at the Lion Rock and Tai Mo Shan across the harbour, however, I felt overwhelmed by tides of hopelessness and helplessness never experienced before. Perhaps this also explains why I couldn’t hold my tears watching the Lunar New Year parade on television – the best wishes have become unbearably bitter sarcasm contradicting the harsh reality.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Good Memory Is Not Good

Since childhood, I have been said to have a good memory. Some said this is why I learn fast, some attributed it to my good grades at school. If my memory is truly good, the only admittible advantage to me is that it helps recite favourite lines in poetry or libretto, or important historical facts, without much pain.

Over time, however, it becomes clearer that having a good memory is not necessarily good.

The biggest problem is that it makes you remember what you don't really want. Unlike what one might expect, it doesn't really need an eidetic memory like that of Lisbeth Salander in Steig Larsson's best-selling trilogy The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to do so. For some mysterious reasons, what the eye and heart come across is automatically recorded in the long-term memory, without any prior approval. This means the conscious is not even aware of the recording and storage processes until certain retrieval cues trigger off a red button buried somewhere in the brain, blowing off the Pandora box shutters and replaying something that you may never want to see again.

It would be an unfortunate mistake to assume that only bad memories hurt. In fact, both good and bad memories do, more so for the happy ones. This usually happens when the good old days are long gone. It does not necessarily mean one is dwelling on the irrecoverable past, or indulging in the self-created illusions that it were but a nightmare though. It just means the rift between the past and present is too large to be reconciled, at least for a certain period of time. As a result, the happier one's experience is, the longer it takes to convince one's heart and mind that everything is but the past. In this case, the happy memories are little more than unwelcomed reminders of what one's life used to be, and what it could have been if nothing went wrong.

Unfortunately human life always goes astray and unfolds in an unexpected or even unwanted direction, and there is little we can do about it. Worse still, those with a good memory often find it even harder to swallow, because the highly autonomous memory works on its own and doesn't give a damn to what one feels. It only reacts to any external stimulus brought to its attention, without any reference to timing or situation. On some occasions it doesn't even need any retrieval cue to recall what is buried somewhere in the brain. It just blasts off without notice, leaving one in despair or distress. And it just works that way.

Words of wisdom raging on the internet often advise people to let go, but the question is how, not what, to do. For those being haunted by memories, they need instructions more than directions, which are mostly common sense anyway. What people with a good memory really need is a strong hand to help find the way out of the labyrinth of conflicts between the emotion and reason. In fact, this is a dilemma that seems extremely difficult to get over. Usually the better the memory is, the harder it is to step out of the predicament. Most importantly, unlike computer files, memories cannot be deleted voluntarily. Anything that falls into the long-term memory is deemed to be recalled at any time.

If I may, let me wish for God's mercy of granting me the ability to delete unwanted files in memory as the birthday gift for this year. Alternatively, a less effective recording and storage system in my brain would also be desirable.