'New age' of theatre debuts at Gateway

The cast of Detention: Man Kwan Chan, Chun Tung Cheng (back row), Hong Man Oggy Ho, Winwei Tsai, director Shu-wing Tang and Ho Pong RX Wong.   - Matthew Hoekstra
The cast of Detention: Man Kwan Chan, Chun Tung Cheng (back row), Hong Man Oggy Ho, Winwei Tsai, director Shu-wing Tang and Ho Pong RX Wong.
— image credit: Matthew Hoekstra

Esther Ho was still beaming Monday, a day after welcoming five Hong Kong actors at Vancouver International Airport.

It's the first cast to arrive for a summer series of three Chinese plays at Gateway Theatre—the Gateway Pacific Theatre Festival. Their play, Detention, begins its four-show run Friday, and is an important moment for Metro Vancouver's theatre scene, according to the festival's producer.

"I'm so happy," said Ho. "This is the day we celebrate the new age and a new page (in) Chinese drama history."

The festival, Aug. 15 to 24, includes two other Hong Kong dramas—both presented in Cantonese with English and simplified Chinese surtitles.

Detention is an acrobatic comedy combining clowning, martial arts and percussion. The story is told without words.

Director Shu-wing Tang said the plot is simple. There's a female teacher unlucky in love, overloaded with work and responsible for monitoring a detention session. When she checks in on the misbehaving students, she finds three boys trying to impress a girl. What follows is an impromptu talent competition.

Known for more serious work, Tang said he felt the need to produce something comic. Born was Detention, whose theme focuses on the benefits of laughter.

"If we can have a little bit more laughter, we would be happier," he said.

First mounted in 2011, the show will be nearing 100 performances following its short Gateway run.

Tang's choice to create a non-verbal, physical work was deliberate.

"I strongly believe the body is the vehicle of inner emotions," he said.

The festival's second play is The Isle, which tells the story of one couple's encounter on a remote island, described as a "compassionate yet skeptical take on enduring love." The final show is The Fire of Desire, where five men and five women explore their frustrations and perspectives on love, marriage and sex.

A professional development workshop series and a beginner's playwriting workshop taught by Janice Poon are also part of the festival.

Jovanni Sy, Gateway Theatre's artistic director, said the festival is a way to celebrate the diversity of Richmond and to create a dialogue between Canadian theatre and contemporary theatre in Asia.

Sy's vision is to ultimately create original Canadian theatre with Canadian talent that is in Cantonese or Mandarin.

"We don't foresee this as the first and last time we're going to produce contemporary Chinese language theatre here at the Gateway. This is just the beginning of an ongoing initiative to produce shows."

Gateway Pacific Theatre Festival

•Aug. 15-17: Detention, produced by Tang Shu-wing Theatre Studio, on the MainStage

•Aug. 20-22: The Isle by Paul Poon in the studio

•Aug. 22-24: The Fire of Desire, produced by Perry Chiu Experimental Theatre, on the MainStage

•Tickets are $25 to $50 for MainStage shows, $20 to $35 for studio show; at gatewaytheatre.com or 604-270-1812.

•The Review is giving away a pair of tickets to each show. Enter draw on Twitter or Facebook by retweeting a @richmondreview contest tweet or by liking a contest post on www.facebook.com/richmondreview.

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