In Hong Kong, thousands of people – poor families, students, white-collar workers – live in dystopian-sounding “sub-divided units” that sometimes only amount to 50 square feet. This, in many other Western countries, would be considered a breach of human rights. Cinematic Theatre explore this appalling fact and the politics behind it in an occasionally engaging but often all too obvious manner.
Cinematic Theatre are obviously passionate about bringing details of Hong Kong’s wealth inequality to light and they should be praised for trying to do so.
The main problems are rooted in the text, although how much is lost in translation is unclear: the piece is alternately performed in Cantonese and English and, while this reinforces the universality of the plight faced by the residents of the units, you can’t help but wonder if you’re missing something. Too often we are told, forcefully, that these conditions are inhumane and unjust; they obviously are, but why not simply show us? The initial scenario is promising: a fifty foot square drawn on the floor with markings to show the bed, shower, minimal furniture and so on. Different individuals are placed within this overtly restrictive environment and we see what they do and how they cope. This is all the show needs to be: an intimate and intense piece about the contradictions at the heart of one of the most successful capitalist economies in the world.
Unfortunately this doesn’t happen. Dodgy multimedia elements are introduced – a projected text conversation, a pastiche of reality TV that induces cringes rather than laughter – for no discernible reason. For space reasons the “installation” part of the production hasn’t made it to St. John’s, so we can’t get the full experience. Having said that, this problem is solved by some genuinely impressive technical trickery and movement, the only part of the multimedia experience that feels in some way connected to the show as a whole.
Mostly though, the show felt limited by its ‘multimedia’ label, director Ching-man Lo seemingly unable to let her actors show us the moral truth at the show’s heart without helpfully throwing visual accompaniment or sound design at us too. The acting itself was adequate although most characters didn’t get a chance to do much at all and what little they did do was marred by the obviousness of the script.
My Luxurious 50 Square Feet Life is a frustrating show. Cinematic Theatre are obviously passionate about bringing details of Hong Kong’s wealth inequality to light and they should be praised for trying to do so. Unfortunately, their theatrical execution leaves a lot to be desired.