The Hong Kong Three Sisters

Premiered in 1901 in Moscow, The Three Sisters by Chekhov is a play perhaps surprisingly easy to adapt to many different circumstances, as it speaks about characters’ dreams for a better life and the continuance of human suffering. The Hong Kong Three Sisters brings the play to Hong Kong (in an abridged version) through the change of language to Cantonese, and the interruption of Chekhov’s play, at one point, with a scene from contemporary Hong Kong. Subtitles are provided in English.

What makes this play interesting and compelling to any audience is the connection proffered between the rural early 20th century reality of The Three Sisters and urban, present-day Hong Kong.

Award-winning director Andrew Chan immediately renders his version of The Three Sisters original not only through the language but through the minimalist style in which it is brought to the stage. The stage is void of any props or set decoration. There are only the actors, wearing shocking white powder on their faces and yet with modern dyed hair, moving about the stage often in a kind of dance. This abstract, purposeful dance along with the soulful piano music accompanying it created a visual manifestation of the theme of hope trying to survive amidst suffering.

What really made this rendition of The Three Sisters unique however was its interruption, halfway through, by the actors themselves. From that interruption followed a series of unexpected scenes presenting the audience with a glimpse of present-day Hong Kong.

Here the play unfortunately became a bit convoluted, alluding to various realities of Hong Kong difficult for an audience unfamiliar with the country to follow. This disconnect for certain audience members, due to lack of knowledge more than a fault with the play itself, was in part compensated by the insight of life in Hong Kong, a country rarely represented in Western cultural sites.

What makes this play interesting and compelling to any audience is the connection proffered between the rural early 20th century reality of The Three Sisters and urban, present-day Hong Kong. One of the central discussions characters in the Chekhov play have is over whether, in the future, suffering will decrease and people will become happier, and whether one can find purpose in one’s current life of unhappiness by thinking it will contribute to a future improvement. The view into contemporary Hong Kong shows characters still burdened by suffering and unhappiness, this time due to a strenuous economic system, and, alternatively, characters still full of hope for some better future.

At the end, after the actors go through Hong Kong’s history and then take back up Chekhov’s play to promptly conclude it, a question still hangs in the air. The director explored it using art, drama, contemporary life, history–but it remains still hanging, as it did in Chekhov’s play: who is more right, the characters that hope for the future, or those who have given up?

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The Blurb

Directed by award-winning director Andrew Chan, The Hong Kong Three Sisters is serving a molecular gastronomic dish of Chekhov’s The Three Sisters, seasoned with minimalism, through devised theatre and satirising extraordinary phenomena in Hong Kong. In the play, director Kwong implements an avant-garde approach to The Three Sisters. During a run-through, one of the actors disappears. The rehearsal comes to a halt and dialogues between the director and the actors eventually take place, revealing details of the other sides of the actors’ lives and the current scene in Hong Kong. Performed in Cantonese (English surtitles).