As a comedy classic written by Shakespeare four centuries ago, “The Taming of the Shrew” has been widely rewritten and adapted so it might be challenging for playwrights to take a new turn. In early December, a new adaptation entitled “New Taming of the Shrew ” produced by the “Inspirational Drama Programme for Elderly” took the stage in the Jockey Club Black Box Theatre for five shows. The adaptation saw breakthroughs in multiple aspects: apart from changing the setting to the Hong Kong in the 1960s, another highlight was the actors who were amateur in the golden age, with the youngest being 55-year-old. The thunderous applause during the show and the audience’s knowing smile at the monologue of the two protagonists at the end are the best compliments for the romantic comedy with a modern twist.
Extra effort for the role
“New Taming of the Shrew” shares a similar plot with the original, revolving around the love interest between two daughters of a noble family and their suitors. Played by the semi-retired Feline Li, the elder sister and the leading female character Fok So-chow is a shrewish and headstrong woman whose unreasonable personality has put off countless men. Feline was a corporate leadership instructor who possesses experience in role-playing and years of Cantonese opera training. Passionate in acting, she has spent more than 10 hours rehearsing with the actor who played the role of her lover McKee Chiao in the play and dressed in the 1960s fashion, all for standing out in the 3-minute audition to be cast this role who is nothing like herself.
Feline continued: “I have never thought that I could perform with friends in my age so I will give my all when an opportunity reveals itself. I think to earn the role, you have to put your mind and emotions into the character and show the tough side of her.”
The wonderful performance of Feline in the audition let her get the role of the leading actress. This also attested to the old saying “opportunities come to those who are prepared”. After all, lifelong learning is beneficial to people of all ages.
Pursuing dream requires company
Contrary to the elder daughter Fok So-chow, the younger daughter Fok Pak-yin is a typical well-mannered girl from a wealthy family. As the actress of this character, Monkey Hou was a primary school teacher and responsible for the Chinese dance group in extracurricular activities before her retirement. Monkey knew about “Inspirational Drama Programme for Elderly” from her friend and decided to join the third batch beginning in Oct 2021. Although Monkey did have experience on stage, she realised that acting was more difficult than dancing as acting not only requires body language but also the skills to say the lines. She disclosed: “During the two-and-a-half month’s theatre training, the detailed guidance of the director and the support from my classmates was helpful to my progress. In the beginning, I couldn’t memorise all the lines and failed to meet the strict requirements of the director. I was so stressed that I couldn’t sleep well for some time.”
Through the demonstration and instruction of the director, Monkey gradually learnt the technique of performance, such as the rhythm of speaking, building chemistry with others and switching to different emotions etc. According to her, the experience has enhanced the perceptions of her five senses and her concentration. Monkey concluded: “An important lesson is that pursuing a dream needs the help of friends and organisations. I will never say never and continue to try any role I could get my hands on.”
The contented “Devilish coach”
Brenda Chan, the director of the play, is a veteran in the theatre who has participated in more than 200 plays. In the blink of an eye, the “Inspirational Drama Programme for Elderly” has run for three years and Brenda has met over 600 elderly. She felt a strong sense of fulfilment even though the participants called her a “devilish coach”. To prepare for “New Taming of the Shrew” performance, the students have undergone professional theatre trainings and did two to three four-hour rehearsals a week for two and a half months. The stage, props, costumes and music were all specifically designed to create a realistic setting of Hong Kong in the 1960s. Names of the main characters like “So-chow”, “Pak-yin”, “McKee” and “Cho Fan” would definitely ring a bell with the audience who have watched Cantonese feature movies from the 1950s and 1960s.
Rediscovering the classic from female perspective
Brenda explained the main reasons for adapting Shakespearean classic: free of any copyright issue and that the play was not only literary, but also came with interesting characterisation and plot injected with discussion on the topic of gender. Back in the days when the play was written, female had virtually no rights. As for the “taming of the shrew”, it becomes ridiculous and regressive in the modern era. Therefore, when the team was recreating the play, they wished to bring it to the world today and highlight the different attitude and approach of the protagonists in dealing with the gender issue.
Brenda said: “The female protagonist So-chow and the male protagonist McKee are both short-tempered, so I decided that they would fall in love at first sight to make the whole story more convincing and their mutual respect grew over time. The second highlight is at the end of the play where So-chow tells through her monologue that it is not men who dominate women and there is no victory or defeat in a relationship— it is all about how the lovers maintain a lifelong relationship.”
Bobby Chow, the actor who played McKee, announced proudly at the end: “Dealing with women is like dealing with a fierce hawk: once you starve her long enough, she would know who has the say at home.” Then So-chow, who was played by Feline, told the audience with confidence: “Men are vain and narcissistic creatures. When you compliment them and fulfil their vanity, you could turn the tables and manipulate them.” These monologues speak clearly about the message the creators wanted to convey by this adaption.
A taste of art, a taste of life
This programme was founded in 2019 by Arts’ Options, which comprises a group of experienced theatre performers. The programme is funded by Link Together Initiatives. Link is the first and only corporate to sponsor the scheme for four years consecutively, allowing the programme to provide professional theatre trainings and performance opportunities to the elderly, and to encourage them to connect with the community. As the Chinese proverb says, “life is like a drama, and drama a life”. We would love to see the golden agers shine on the stage as they showcase their optimistic and open-minded attitude towards life. For the participants, it is no less a taste of art than a taste of life.