The 52nd HK Arts Festival .Feature

Till Identity Do Us Part

Text / Shao yi Chan

It's never easy to adapt a classic. On one hand, there's always pressure from fans of the original. And on the other, the differences that often emerge between the original and the adaptation, whether in values, context or the experiences of the audience and performers, often lead to questions about whether the work will resonate with new audiences.
Playwright Amy Ng, who was born in Hong Kong and now lives in England, collaborated with theatre director Tony Wong to transplant Swedish playwright August Strindberg masterpiece Miss Julie to colonial-era Hong Kong. After touring from the UK to Singapore, Ng's adaptation is about to be staged on "home turf" at the Hong Kong Arts Festival.  From today's perspective, Strindberg's story may be seen as simple and even a little soapy: a wealthy heiress hooks up with the family servant, eventually losing herself in questions about gender and class, and ends up on the path of destruction.

Smashing notions of identity

Even though the two main creators have different values and ideals, their mental wavelengths are aligned when it comes to the core theme of the play. The pair say they're approaching this new version from the angle of "identity" and hope to keep it true to Hong Kong's historical background. The story takes place in Hong Kong in 1948, just as the British reclaims control over the port city from Japan and the foundations of colonial rule have been shaken. The half-British Julie considers herself a Hongkonger, yet the humble Jean, who hails from mainland China, does not believe Julie qualifies as one. There is also Julie's family cook, who is Jean's fiancée and a born-and-bred Hongkonger—the relationship between the three is a reflection of post-colonial Hong Kong: a messy entanglement.
However, don't imagine that the mere term "identity" is sufficient to explain this work. Wong notes how easy it is to slip into crude binaries when it comes to concepts of identity, such as Julie representing the UK, Jean representing mainland China, and so on. Going beyond identity politics, he hopes more to explore the universal humanity that transcends individual identities: "If Julie's tragedy stems from an identity issue, then should we not throw down the shackles of identity and treat each other simply as human beings?"

Miss Julie

Date: 1-17 Mar, 2024

Venue: Theatre, Hong Kong City Hall

Details: https://www.hk.artsfestival.org/en/programme/Miss_Julie?