Review-Fight Night-Hong Kong Arts Festival


By: Tom Hope


I’ve been sceptical of politics and the democratic process since the year I first voted.  It was 1979 and swept Mrs Thatcher to power.  By the time I came out East in the ‘80s, the UK’s  least worst system of ‘first past the post’ democracy - which had delivered ten years of non-majority ‘populism against the people’- seemed more of a charade than the unrepresentative but more economically efficient autocracies of colonial Hong Kong and mainland China. 


So why did I find Fight Night so unsatisfying in its pin-point dissection of how modern politics combined with modern technologies can disempower an electorate who – with their armchair modems in hand – feel they have a real say in what’s really going on but are only really interested in exercising that power to vote for who wins Big Brother or Strictly Come Dancing?


This ‘play’ is supposedly about politics and democracy, supposedly set in the context of a boxing ring, but reality tv is the truer ‘connect’.  We, the audience, were asked to vote for 5 ‘actors’ (David, Gilles, Roman, Sophie and Charlotte - their real names, according to the programme) based purely on how they looked (yes, our very first ‘vote’ was after each of them uncowelled their black boxing robes to reveal their faces in an offset white square –the ‘boxing ring’ - and without any explanation of why we should be voting) and what they said.


In the manner of Big Brother inmates, they then presented themselves in reiterated sound-byte opportunities as honest, funny, caring, passionate etc etc while manoeuvring as insidiously as possible to be voted to stay in the ring and ultimately win the contest.


So how were the votes cast?  Well, as we filed into the HKCC’s Studio Theatre, we were each given a radio-linked console – like an online banking security gizmo.  Our host for the night,  Angelo (also his real name according to the programme) in a gaudily checkered boxing-promoter style suit, intoned his explanations of the ‘contest’ in a suitably mock-serious manner by means of a solitary microphone, snaking down to his command from the flies for himself and – at his direction - each of the contestants to use.  Supported by two men in black (seated at laptops on tables behind the offset boxing square beneath two large LED screens on which the voting results were displayed), Anglo used our initial testing of the equipment to establish we were an audience of (mostly) single females aged (mostly) 25 to 44 with incomes of (mostly) more than $70K or less than $10K per month. 


And why did we do this?  Because we were told (correction, asked) to.  And because we’d agreed to be entertained – or to be more precise to participate in our own entertainment – in this way. And, of course, we didn’t have to if we didn’t want to (and I mostly didn’t – my excuse the need to retain critical detachment at all times, my true motivation my thinking the process total bullshit). 


And, of course, we didn’t know for sure that the results shown on the screens were truly what was being voted (but at one point we were called out on who had not voted and they definitely had my number – a serial ID on the side of my gizmo – which suggests that the data generated was indeed realtime authentic.)  Yet, indeed, when asked early on if we trusted what we were being told, the majority of ‘us’ said no….


Does it work as theatre?  Well, yes and no (which, of course, like the questions we were repeatedly asked to answer by pressing numbers on our gizmos, is to over-simplify what is never really a ‘yes or no’ issue).  The supposedly simple storyline twisted (in ways not predicted or mandated by the audience) to mock in ever more multi-layered ironies the manipulations of personality-based politics.  However, by premising from the outset the absurdity of the process, the show struggled to move beyond an absurdist satire of the absurd.  And by presenting us with characters for whom our sympathies are consistently undermined through the satire - in a context which is denuded of any real significance for our own circumstances - the kick in this particular parable aims more at the head than the heart.


There was however one kick which hit the heart all the more powerfully for our Hong Kong context.  Towards the close, we were invited to protest the play’s process by discarding our gizmos and occupying the stage.  As the boxing ring swelled with (mostly) young ethnic Chinese, so did my emotions at this metaphor for how last year’s Occupy protests represented a similar rejection of the political process, to similarly disempowering effect – all the more so when those same protesters were voted by the unmoved majority to leave the auditorium. 


That raised a critical issue for me - to stay with the majority or exit with the minority to see what more might happen outside?  Yes, I stayed – but only to exit the theatre a few minutes later, in another neatly turned irony, when the show ended and we were required to hand in our gizmos to the ushers as we left.


Enthusiasts for Augusto Boal’s theories of participatory theatre should revel in the way this ‘play’ uses technology to explore how an audience can be brought into the dramatic process.  However,  I suspect Boal (if still alive) would dismiss the show as essentially a bourgeois exercise – a questioning of the political process which, by avoiding specific political issues, disappears smugly up its own ironic backside, leaving the audience dispassionately despairing rather than engaged in making a real difference.


I could be wrong.  Who’s to say what seeds of activist discontent might be sown in our Hong Kong audience by this show’s clinically assured execution of its not so simple underpinning concepts?  But I would suggest, at the very least, that every show (rather than just one – which for this HKAF run was yesterday evening and which I missed because my ticket was for the matinee) should include a Question and Answer session by which audience members can – if they so wish – explore in more depth the ways in which Fight Night’s abstracted metaphors could be brought to bear on their own specific situation.  It’s only a 90 minute show (without interval – and, be warned, no admission of latecomers) so such a Q&A should be well within the tolerances of cast and crew.  But perhaps that would risk unmasking the true nature of that same cast and crew and thereby denude the play’s process of its purported provocative potential…


Fight Night is playing through March 1. For more information, click here.



Rate This Show: 1 2 3 4 5 Audience Rating: 4.7


  • Yuxin
    03 March 2015

    You can go to the Q&A even if your ticket is for another performance: I did and so were a few others. But true it was a bit of a hassle to be travelling to and from the theatre again.

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