Review-The Learned Ladies of Midlevels-Shadow Players


By: Leeann Bennett

I’d heard plenty about Hong Kong’s newest theatre troupe, The Shadow Players. Comprised of recent graduates from local universities, these young students felt that there was a niche for a new troupe with their talents so they got together and formed one. An inspiring story and who doesn’t love new rising talent? I walked in expecting a pretty good show and reading the bios of the cast raised my expectations further. These thespians might have been young but they had plenty of degrees, awards and even enviable experience under their belts. And what more, they were bringing one of Moliere’s most popular comedies to life with a Hong Kong twist. Yes, the bar was set pretty high in my mind as I sat down but The Shadow Players did not disappoint.

Moliere’s “Les Femmes Savantes” or “The Learned Ladies”, for the unenlightened (and no judgment, being a plebeian I wasn’t either until I looked it up) is a satiric look at academic pretention and female education and the rights parents have over their children’s lives. It originally premiered in 1672 and quickly become one of his most popular plays but The Shadow Players have managed to smoothly integrate a Hong Kong spin on this old classic comedy and show how old ideas are still relevant to our time and culture.

The Fringe’s Underground Theatre was turned into a luxurious sitting room complete with a chandelier and a very large, opulent picture frame where a live quartet sat. Each wore their own baroque inspired costumes and played excerpts from Saint-Saëns’ "Carnival of the Animals" in the backdrop. The music was adapted by Steven Bailey and each character had their own leitmotif with the music played to add to the comedy and drama. The costumes were also fantastic in my opinion; it seemed no stops were pulled, especially in regards to the hilarious wigs.

The story revolves around Henriette, the lone female in her family who has no lofty goals of intellectualism and instead aspires to more domestic ambitions of marriage to the sensible Sebastian but alas her mother, sister and hysterically eccentric aunt contrive to marry her off to the focus of their adoring obsession, C. Y. Tang, a man whose dubious poetic skill and clearly fraudulent intellectualism is somehow completely missed by the “Learned Ladies” in the play. Her father supports the match with the more romantic and all round nice guy Sebastian, but he is an entirely browbeaten husband, under the stern chilling rule of his Tai Tai wife and between his agreement of the marriage to Sebastian, his wife’s insistence on a match to C. Y. Tang and the aunt’s histrionics, hilarity ensues.

The cast were consummate actors bringing these interesting characters to life with luster; it was hard to fault their dedication to what must have been a challengingly verbose script. Nor could I fault their comedic timing, polished as it were. Joyce Cece Chan, as Henrietta was ethereal, displaying a rare ease on stage. Minna Cheung as Pamela was divine, at turns an adoring devotee and next a frightening tiger mother. C.Y. Tang was perfectly feckless and completely unaware of it. He also had great hair. A couple of the cast played dual roles very convincingly, especially considering that they played the opposite gender

I could praise each of the cast members if I could but alas, I have a word limit to which I must pay respect however I must say that my favorite character by far was the loopy, slightly delusional and incredibly funny aunt played very convincingly by Francis Chan in awesome drag with the best wig I’ve ever seen.

Of course it was their opening night and there were a few tiny hiccups. It was strangely devoid of the glaring errors that can plague cast and crew members on an opening night. The issues that did crop up were so minor as to not be worth mentioning. Except perhaps one...

The music was a good accompaniment and I wouldn’t dare suggest that this play might be better without it; but it was hard at times to follow the script over the quartet’s solid playing. I love a clever wordy exchange, well written and well delivered; but it was hard to make out what was being said sometimes. I felt that the lines had a lovely lyrical quality that was lost behind the music and sometimes because the actors rushed to deliver them. Moliere was no lightweight as a writer and his work deserves to be relished when spoken. A couple of the actors had great stage voices which gave credence to what they said however I can’t apply this to the whole cast.

Overall, this was a fantastic first show by The Shadow Players. The performance was tight, the lines well-delivered for the most part, the comedic routines perfect giving testament to the hard work that obviously has been going on behind the scenes. Deftly directed by Julian Lamb, Assistant Professor of English at CUHK, this is a troupe of actors that have come together and given us a rare insight to what dedication and hard work can do when coupled with real talent. They’ve set the bar high for their next performance, but I for one have no doubt that they will only get better.

The Learned Ladies of Midlevels is playing through Saturday at the Fringe Club. HKELD has recently been informed that this production has sold out! For more information, click here.

Rate This Show: 1 2 3 4 5 Audience Rating: 4.4


  • Molly
    25 April 2013

    Great show!!!!
  • ST Brown
    25 April 2013

    One of the best I've seen in years. Wait, are the tickets still on sale? Just gotta go again haha.

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