Writen and directed by Edward Lam
Produced by Edward Lam Dance Theatre
Photos Courtesy of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay
I should first start by saying that if you are not good in Chinese language/or have no appreciation of 红楼梦, you will probably be very bewildered by this show. In fact, in a self-mockery tone, the playwright asks the audience if they had eaten dinner in the very beginning of the play. Because if not, it would probably not be a nice feeling to watch a play which they can't understand on a hungry stomach.
In my opinion, a play is well done if it makes me continue to ruminate about the content after leaving the theatre, especially for this show, I find myself breaking out my old 红楼梦 text and seeing the references from the play. The fact that I am interested enough on this pursuit at 12.30 am speaks volume of the play.
As written in the programme booklet, What is Sex? is not meant to be a staging of 红楼梦. And I liked that. I found that particularly intriguing. Edward Lam has selected scenes from the Chinese classic and used them as a backdrop to portray seemingly (i emphasise, seemingly) irrelevant scenes from modern life. I was initially very perplexed by this anachronistic presentation (Credit card? with Xifeng and Pinger?) but by scene three or four, it suddenly came to me the beauty of Edward Lam's arrangement. While the actual context/dialogue of the scene from 红楼梦 and What is Sex may not be coherent, this juxtaposition of 红楼梦 and What is Sex actually drew parallels between the two. This underscores what Edward Lam wrote in the programme, despite three centuries, themes/stories of Dream of the Red Chamber still apply today. Maybe just the tools are different today (you can use electric iron to scald a 'maid/slave') but these acts remain unchanged in their intent across time.
The choice of scenes were also captivating. There were a myriad of scenes. I was particularly fond of a few. Scene 3: Mayhem in School - we saw the lively male ensemble effectively creating a teenage-level school scene, without overacting and degenerating it into a childish cat fight. 这一点，我觉得导演拿捏的很好。既可以带出少年学生的调皮，互动，更清楚为以众欺小做了一副写真。
I guess in the spirit of the show, I shall type random things in Chinese too: 没有人听，我就不告解，我就没有犯罪了。第四场的这一句话，让我留下了深刻的印象。很多人也是这样吧，做错了事，就企图把它给埋在脑海深处，也不跟任何人说。没有人听，不提起，就好比真的没有做过一样。
Scene 14 was possibly my favourite scene. Getting two guys acting as Bao Yu and Dai Yu, and to develop a love scene between them, runs the high risk of becoming campy and revolting. But it wasn't. It was handled impeccably well by the two actors and the relationship between this pair of lovers were rightly accentuated, without incurring any slapstick laughter (which would have spoilt the scene). I thought Edward Lam did a really good job on this scene, and the strategic placing of it at Scene 14 really helped to wrap the show up nicely towards the end.
Although I recognise some actors' names from previous Huayi (or other rains like Lei Yu), I regret to say that although the actors were generally competent as a group, I couldn't distinguish them individually (I suppose that was the director's choice when he had them playing some many roles within a scene). Not that it's a bad thing, just that I can't praise any one particularly good. But in general, they all were. The men were impressive.
Beyond the stories and actors, I thought the motion picture effects were picturesque and well done. I particularly liked the shattered mirror effect, cash turning into paper and the snowing effect at the end. It was classy and non ostentatious.
Really, this show has been inspiring in more than one way. 看了这戏，中文也提升了两三分。回家后到了网上，还Google了王维的诗。“渡头余落日，墟里上孤烟。”，“大漠孤烟直，长河落日圆。”确实写的很美；很怪，但就如剧中所言，很美。
I think in conclusion, I was really happy that I managed to catch this year's Hua yi. Watching religiously watched Huayi for many years (except last year because I was outfield), I daresay that shows in the Huayi festival do not disappoint. Would I recommend this show to everyone? I confidently say that its not for everyone. Without prior knowledge of 红楼梦 (contrary to what Edward Lam said), i think it would be difficult to appreciate the show. But if you know the story of 红楼梦, and you appreciate the beautifully written lines from 红楼梦 being used (relentlessly) in the play, you will probably enjoy the show as much as I did. Was 3.5 hours a bit too long? Perhaps. But to be restless once in a while was probably okay for this overall wonderful show. In my opinion that is.
Justwatchlah score: 4/5