Ceri Sherlock


The Dean of Drama at the HKAPA talks his direction for HKRep's The Cherry Orchard. Interview by Edmund Lee. Portrait by Calvin Sit.

The fluidity of time and the futility of love loom large in Ceri Sherlock’s Cantonese adaptation of The Cherry Orchard, which opens on May 11 as the first production of Hong Kong Repertory Theatre’s new season. Currently the Dean of Drama at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, Sherlock has previously directed three plays and one opera for APA students since he moved here in 2010. With his upcoming take on Chekhov’s final play, Sherlock is set to make his professional debut in Hong Kong. A self-professed regular audience member of HKRep’s productions for the past three years, the award-winning Welsh director talks to Time Out at the company’s rehearsal studio.

This production of The Cherry Orchard is in Cantonese. Can you tell us a bit about your past experience with directing non-English plays? Is this something refreshing to you?
It is refreshing to me, although I have staged in different languages, ranging from my own home language, which is Welsh, to English, German and French. So it’s a familiar environment, particularly as an opera director: you’re almost always directing in a different language than your own. In terms of Cantonese, the three productions at the APA have been in Cantonese. I guess the kind of director that I am is really more about subtext rather than text. I’m really interested in the nuance of language, but I’m also very happy to be working on emotions as much as I am on words.

Do you have any special preferences as a director?
I do. I’m interested in actors at the centre, communicating with an audience. I come from a very mainstream European background – Stanislavski’s system of naturalistic theatre – so that’s where I feel most comfortable. For me, it’s all about the actors at the centre, and that’s why choosing a Chekhov play is really logical.

Have you staged The Cherry Orchard previously?
I once directed The Cherry Orchard before.

When was that?
Oh god, I feel like it was a hundred years ago! It was probably in the late 80s or early 90s, at a drama school in London. That was quite nice, because the play was a teaching tool: Chekhov is used quite often to help young actors to work on inner character, motivation, subconscious intention and so on. It’s a very familiar kind of environment. Chekhov is an actor’s challenge – and it’s also a director’s challenge. The Cherry Orchard is his last play and his most modern one, which is both naturalistic and symbolic.

What’s been your impression of our theatre scene in the three years you’ve been here?
It’s very, very active. [There are a] great number of productions, many of which happen at the same time. There seems to be a lot of passion and a lot of commitment to live performance in theatre, which is, let’s say, unusual. It’s really to the credit of Hong Kong that people are interested in plays, the voices of playwrights and theatre as a contemporary form of artistic communication. There’s respect for performing arts – particularly for theatre; it’s very, very strong.

Have there been any particular surprises since you arrived?
I think the great thing – and I’m saying this as a British person – is how distinctive Chinese voices are: the Hong Kong one is not the same as the Mainland’s, it’s not colonial, and it has a distinctive and individual voice, which is about identity, culture and social issues. For me, the great surprise is the range and power of voices, particularly of individual playwrights like Poon Wai-sum and young voices such as Wong Wing-sze. It’s a surprise to have a respect for plays and playwrights, as opposed to just directors or designers. There is a very strong heart, which makes the voice. And the other surprise is the attraction of physical theatre, which was a phase in Europe but is still quite active here. That’s quite interesting to me because it’s slightly old-fashioned, but again, there’s a big following of that. And I guess the importance of HKRep and Chung Ying Theatre is, in a way, their function as a kind of national theatre, like the UK’s Royal Shakespeare Company.

The Cherry Orchard 櫻桃園 is performed at City Hall Theatre, Sat May 11-Sun May 26, in Cantonese with English & Chinese surtitles. Tickets: 2734 9009; urbtix.hk.


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