Dual roles for veteran actor Anthony Wong

Actors Anthony Wong and Candice Yu (both above) as King Oberon and Queen Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The production by Dionysus Contemporary Theatre is part of the Esplanade’s Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts next year.
Actors Anthony Wong and Candice Yu (both above) as King Oberon and Queen Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The production by Dionysus Contemporary Theatre is part of the Esplanade’s Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts next year. PHOTO: BENNY LUEY

After more than 30 years in movies, four Hong Kong Film Awards and three Golden Horse trophies, Hong Kong actor Anthony Wong is relishing his return to theatre - and meaty scripts.

He starred in his company Dionysus Contemporary Theatre's Cantonese production of the French play, God Of Carnage, at Huayi - Chinese Festival of Arts this year and the group will be back in Singapore next year with another classic, A Midsummer Night's Dream.

In this new Cantonese version of Shakespeare's tale of crazy love in a magical forest - which will be staged at the Esplanade Theatre from Feb 3 to 5 - Wong has dual roles, as Theseus the duke and groom-to-be and as Oberon the fairy king. The cast includes actress Candice Yu and singer Alex Lam (son of Cantopop veteran George Lam).

In a telephone interview from Hong Kong last Thursday, Wong says he loved the mental workouts involved in grappling with texts and treading the boards.

"I most enjoy remembering many things, many monologues and preventing dementia," the 55-year-old says in Cantonese. "Actors have a lot of skills, including memory, concentration, analytical powers, physical fitness. On stage, you can test your thinking and your memory."

  • BOOK IT /A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM

  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre

    WHEN: Feb 3 and 4, 7.30pm; and Feb 5, 2pm

    ADMISSION: Tickets at $38, $58, $88 and $128 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

    INFO: www.esplanade.com/huayi

He adds: "After each analysis of your script, it's like you've read a book and learnt a lot. There's a lot of nutrition. This doesn't exist in movies and TV for now in Hong Kong."

In the 1980s, he started acting with the now-defunct broadcaster ATV as a trainee before studying drama at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.

Roles in TVB drama serials and movies followed in a varied career, which ranged from the exploitation film Raped By An Angel 4: The Raper's Union (1999) to the crime drama Infernal Affairs (2002), which won Wong a Golden Horse Award for Best Supporting Actor. He is married with three sons.

Looking to return to theatre, he founded Dionysus in 2013 with a friend from drama school, theatre director Olivia Yan. Led by Wong and Yan as artistic directors, the group has focused on translated plays, beginning with a Cantonese production of the British play Equus in 2014, starring Wong and singer Hins Cheung.

As this year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, Dionysus is commemorating the bard by staging A Midsummer Night's Dream, one of his happier, "easily digestible" plays, Wong says. It is also a chance to showcase more young actors because "I can't be doing everything", he adds.

Although Yan is spicing up the show with a circus theme and modern ingredients such as street dance and rap, Wong does not consider the production an adaptation.

"We're not actually adapting it, we're pruning it," he says.

The actors compared many Chinese translations with the original English text to work out which version of which line would be more accurate or effective. One of the greatest challenges they faced was choosing when to use formal Cantonese that retained the rhythm of poetry, and when to use lively, colloquial Cantonese, Wong says.

His return to theatre has coincided with a slowdown in his movie career.

"I've been banned, don't you know?" he says, referring to how his film jobs have dwindled after he apparently ruffled the Chinese authorities' feathers by speaking up for Hong Kong student protesters on social media in 2014.

But by then, he had already formed Dionysus and felt it was time to do more theatre, he adds. "Because I actually want to do this thing, and if I don't, five more years and I'll be 60. How could I do it then? It would have to be the next life."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 22, 2016, with the headline 'Dual roles for veteran actor Anthony Wong'. Print Edition | Subscribe