The Extinction of Hong Kongers, playing as part of the 2018 SummerWorks Festival, is an intriguing look at the history of Hong Kong, a Chinese-British port island that is slowly, gradually, losing its identity. Performed with miniatures and puppetry and utilizing recycled and found materials, this unique production is presented in a combination of English, Cantonese and Mandarin.
The Extinction of Hong Kongers is directed by Chun Shing Roland Au, written by Santayana Li, and performed by both Au and Li who have managed to create an informative, yet moving and comical story of the rise and fall of Hong Kong.
The former British colony, originally ceded by the Chinese at the end of the First Opium War in 1842, spent over a century with heavy British influence that spread throughout the culture, language, and economy. Even to this day, the streets of Hong Kong bear British names. After the handover back to China in 1997, communist government and practices quickly moved in. For many young Hong Kongers, this drastic change became their way of life and the succeeding years have been fraught with chaos, protests, and culture clash.
The beauty of this production exists predominantly in the use of miniatures and puppetry to tell the story. The Hong Kong landscape, including the harbour, are formed with bits of recycled packaging like egg crates. The design uses the cardboard shades of brown and beige, at times to great effect, like creating the harbour skyline. But, at other times images are harder to discern. The Chinese characters for Hong Kong are displayed on the wall and the characters against the egg crate background are a bit hard to make out.
I love the use of carved potatoes used to represent puppet people and the interactions between potato husband and potato wife remind me of the Hong Kong sitcoms I grew up watching as a kid. I particularly loved the music created and performed live by Ross Unger. His music provided wonderful atmosphere and emotion to the piece, and as well his compositions are lovely to listen to.
The main setback I experienced was how the majority of the show and miniatures were set up right on the floor. From my position sitting in the second row, I could hardly see the action happening at floor level and felt awkward craning my neck or standing briefly to get a better sense of the scene. Sit in the front row or, better yet, on the floor cushions provided for the best unobstructed view. Just keep your feet tucked in.
As someone who speaks English first, Cantonese second, and Mandarin barely, I was able to keep up with most of the dialogue. Those who are only English speakers may experience some difficulty as Au and Li’s English is heavily accented. A quick read-up on Hong Kong history would be helpful before the show.
The Extinction of Hong Kongers is a fun and eye-opening performance of living history — a microcosm of a culture and people changing as the world watches. It’s worth checking out, but arrive early so you can get a seat close to the front.
Tuesday August 14th 7:45 pm – 8:45 pm
Wednesday August 15th 8:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Thursday August 16th 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Friday August 17th 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm
SummerWorks tickets are now Pay What
You Decide at $15, $25, or $35, whichever suits your budget. All tickets are general admission and there are no limits to any price level. Tickets are available at the performance venue (cash only), online, by calling 416-732-4116, and in person at the SummerWorks Central Box Office – located at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West), open August 9-19 from 12 pm – 8 pm. Cash and credit accepted.
Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 4 shows.
Photo of Chun Shing Roland Au by Carmen Lee