Huayi – Chinese Festival Of Arts 2020

Get schooled in values

Cantonese play Principle (above), by the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, explores the education system in Hong Kong, but its creators believe it will find an audience in Singapore.
Cantonese play Principle (above), by the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, explores the education system in Hong Kong, but its creators believe it will find an audience in Singapore.PHOTO: COURTESY OF ESPLANADE - THEATRES ON THE BAY

A new school principal implements new rules. Gossips say the principal is at loggerheads with the popular vice-principal who has been at the school for three decades. Things come to a head when rumours start spreading that the vice-principal is about to be transferred.

This simple plot fuels the Cantonese play Principle by the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, which is part of the Esplanade's Huayi festival.

While the storyline seems to have uncanny parallels to the territory's current turmoil, the play debuted at the group's Black Box in 2017. All 14 performances for that first run were sold out and the company restaged it in 2018.

Playwright Ivan Kwok, 31, is amusingly self-deprecating about his script's success: "I think every audience, actor or director must have thought the playwright is very long-winded when the play first ran."

He credits the strong cast for the warm reception and sold-out runs. "Several reviewers believed the script's conflicts were driven by the lines, but thanks to the actors for their excellent performance, the audiences did not fall asleep because of the long-winded principal and teachers.

"Instead, they were more attentive during class and also had lots of discussion after the performance."

While the play is set in Hong Kong's education system, Kwok believes it will find an audience in Singapore. "The exploration of the principles of education is borderless. In today's society, every country or place has its own education system and most people are educated.

"What is education, what does growing up mean, why do we need to learn and why do we need to go to school every day? These are questions I believe people, who were once students, will mull over."

And while the setting might be in a different location, the deeper themes are likely to resonate as they are universal, he adds.

 
 

"On the surface, Principle explores the education system in Hong Kong, but if you delve deeper, it also explores our value system.

"The choice of values, the collision of growing up and philosophy of life, or even the differences in human nature and the changes in power... form the background of the play. Whatever the choice made, the ability to 'think' of a choice is the core idea of the play."

  • BOOK IT /PRINCIPLE

  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Jan 31 to Feb 2, 8pm; matinees on Saturday and Sunday are at 3pm

    ADMISSION: $38 from Sistic

    INFO: str.sg/JTW3

Given the universality of the play's themes, the group's artistic director Anthony Chan hopes to take the play to more places.

"Hong Kong Repertory Theatre has always hoped to bring outstanding works to different cities and exchange ideas with Chinese audiences," he says. "Principle is tentatively scheduled to be restaged in Hong Kong this year and I hope to have the opportunity to stage it in other cities thereafter."

Ong Sor Fern

Note: This show is sold out but limited tickets may be released nearer the show date.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2020, with the headline 'Get schooled in values'. Print Edition | Subscribe