Review- The Learned Ladies of Mid-Levels- The Shadow Players


By Sophia Zhang





How to be a learned person? Last night at Fringe Club, The Shadow Players “taught” us the importance of unlearning what is (presumed to be) learned, through laughing and a high dose of local stereotypes. It’s indeed all about laughing, in a learned way. Bringing humour onto the stage is hard work. Bringing it from 1672 all the way to 2017 is even harder; The Shadow Players have certainly mastered the shift of 17th-century French comedy written by Moliere in modern days.


Entering the performing space, one cannot miss the heavily decorated desk loaded with hardcover books. With a closer look at this ”very lady”, “very learned” and “very mid-level” like setting, one can’t help also noticing that behind it, the luxurious armchairs are made of cardboards, and the crystal chandelier is printed on canvas. As the learned people show their learned ways, such “learned” extravagance overwhelms the stage. From the neon coloured eye shadow to bright costumes, the “learnings” are wearable from head to toe, and audible as well. The script is wittily translated in pentameters, a “very learned” way to play with words. The lounge, where the story takes place, is intimate and cosy, and sitting on the first row will make the audience feel like being part of the performance. (You might as well be! Who said that all performers are to be on the stage? ).


The adaptation shortens the original play into one act play of ninety minutes, and yet it manages to keep all the tension and twisting of the original piece. The story has all the elements of a romantic comedy in commedia dell'arte style: we see characters lovers/ ruffiana/Arlequin-like and many more elements that are typical of a farce. 


As the story goes, the main quest is whether to choose love over learning. Henriette (Kammy Kwan) and Sebastian (Ben Coniam) are in love, but Henriette's sister Justine (Rosalind Wong) opposes to their future together as she once was pursued by the same man. Sebastian tries to have the girls' father (Marc Ngan) and aunt (Francis Chan- in a hysterical portrait) on his side, but he soon realises that the whole shebang lays in the hands of the lady of the house, Pamela (Minna Cheung). The bossy mother has different plans for her daughter, and she introduces him to poet and potential suitor C.Y. Tang (Joseph Lin); Henriette could not be more opposed to her mother's plans, and the whole ensemble gets even more tangled up when the housemaid Ah Lin (Ines Kwai-Pun) twists things around in a subtle and yet saucy way. Will Henriette and Sebastian succeed in their purpose? Will Pamela open her eyes and see things for what they are and, moreover, will these learned ladies ever learn what real learning is? 


Every actor portrayed each character with high energy and physicality: Miss Kwai-Pun was certainly the highlight of this very entertaining piece. Minna Kwok has also attracted my attention as not only she flawlessly portrayed Pamela in the true "tiger-mother" style but she also did a great job as far as set and costumes are concerned. It was hilarious to see Marc Ngan in the role of the doormat father: his portray and physicality were more than convincing. I wished, however, that his hair was more aged and less flowy. 

Another great moment came when the lawyer took part in the comedy (I won't say how as I don't wish to spoil it), but the scene was blocked by actors standing in his way. 


The play takes a critical point of view on obsession, pedantry, inequality, patriarchy, and all that political incorrectness so popular in the 17th century and yet still so current. Too often and too easily, we imagine ourselves clarifying one problem by inviting another one on top of it; yet The Shadow Players have chosen the other path. They “un-learned” the learnings by dramatising them revealing what's behind that emptiness, together with true self-denial that is so very often covered by profound learnings.


Despite all the interpretations and inspirations, laughing is the key. After all, to be able to laugh at our imperfections is the first step to learn (and to unlearn). So be ready to laugh your head off.

Rate This Show: 1 2 3 4 5 Audience Rating: 4.8


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