Review- The Ritz-Diamond- Gabriella So


By Emrys Barnes




The Ritz Diamond is the solo work of actor Gabriella So, recently returning from performances at international festivals in New York and the UK, and she certainly has an impressive track record for a young artist. Named as an homage to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, this new one-woman play by So focuses on the lives and loves of Kismine and Jasmine, two sisters from an extremely wealthy family. The subject matter of this play and Fitzgerald’s original (set in the heady days of 1920s America) echo the glittering hyper-capitalist world of Hong Kong today. But as we have seen recently in the U.S., no era lasts forever, and change is always inevitable. Thus we are prompted to ask ourselves the timeless question: how much value should we place on material things?


For her return to Hong Kong Gabriella has adapted the production by adding a prequel section. In the raw and intimate bare-brick space of the Fringe Club, the design uses soft blue light and the sounds of bustling human activity to conjure the feeling of a mall-like space. So enters slowly and confidently, moving past the audience. She commands the intimacy of the small space with certainty, marching and dancing in a parody of classical Chinese style. This prequel section begins in Cantonese, before developing into more of a ‘Chinglish’ combination, as So’s character John practices her English. This section is quite humorous, and captivating as we watch John’s mind working as he tries to remember how to introduce himself in this second language. 


As a non-Cantonese speaker, this section has been particularly interesting for me, as I sought to follow the course of the multi-role, multi-lingual conversation. But So gives clear and separate characterisation, using her physicality quite naturally to achieve smooth and fluid storytelling. The design features both comedy (2D painted urinals propped up on chairs) and ingenuity, as clothing rails and chairs are transformed into other items of scenery to take us to different locations.

After the prequel section, we are into the main act. The elegance of So’s costume now contrasts strongly with the swaggering masculinity of the drag role she adopted previously. She is now Jasmine, delivering a very sentimental monologue as she introduces herself and her suffering. But before we know it she has become sultry and sensual, with the brazen self-confidence to solo salsa dance as she brings us up to speed on the story as her confidants. In this role So does a very good job of making us judgmental of Jasmine’s narcissism. Jasmine’s sister Kismet, by contrast, is endearingly shy and awkward as she rehearses her confession of love for John to us.  In their own ways, though, each of the sister’s displays a very possessive feeling towards others. 

One of the most interesting sections is a surreal scene in which So’s two arms are transformed with the addition of two different shoes into the characters, Jasmine and John. This conversation between shoes adds a level of absurdity to what is otherwise a tense, emotional scene. Indeed, the varied approaches that So takes to multi-rolling are one of the most interesting aspects of her performance. At several points, she inhabits two characters, each with half of her body. She uses this technique, combined with a bold use of extended silences, to explore the boundaries of consent and desire.  So also sometimes eschews naturalistic dialogue for a more poetic style. She breaks down the flow of monologues, fixating on and repeating key phrases to show how the mind sticks on certain memories or feelings. This flow gives the effect of a stream-of-consciousness tone poem to the monologues. 


In all, Ritz Diamond gives us a fascinating insight into how vanity and jealousy can tear a family apart. So has undertaken an ambitious project to show us so many characters and their inner lives. She meets this challenge with some interesting dramatic techniques, particularly in her innovative and at points surreal approach to multi-rolling. 


The production has now closed. 


Rate This Show: 1 2 3 4 5 Audience Rating: 5.0


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