yellow objects: an adventure

Poster for Derek Chan's yellow objects

There’s a lot going on here — and a good deal of it is engaging.

Playwright Derek Chan’s yellow objects is about Hong Kong’s democracy movement, which was crushed in 2020 — although its spirit lives on. Artistically, yellow objects is adventuresome. Ten audience members at a time move through an experience that’s staged on the Firehall Arts Centre’s playing area and in its outdoor courtyard.

The event’s loose narrative straddles two timelines: 2019, when demonstrators protesting against the Communist Party of China’s antidemocratic impositions on Hong Kong are being beaten, rounded up, tortured, and sometimes disappeared; and a period about 50 years after that in which a young Canadian woman named Sandra Wong arrives in Hong Kong to find a resting place for her grandmother’s ashes.

Artistically, I was most interested in the textures of yellow objects. Onto a cloth curtain, Chan and his team project text — including the protestors’ five core demands — newsreel footage, and in the most arresting instance, shadow puppets of characters who are engaged in battle in the underworld. Another wall is covered with Post-it Notes that have messages written on them: the Post-Its are the protesters. There’s also a trippy cue that involves tabletop covered with rice: watch for it

The politics are urgent and, in some instances, shocking. I didn’t know, for instance, that “yellow objects” is a term the Hong Kong police use to dehumanize protesters and create “alternative facts”: the police weren’t brutally kicking a man lying on the ground, they were kicking a yellow object.

Chan does a couple of things that, for me, undermine his intention. In a scene of torture that involves sexual assault, for instance, the writing is too simple to capture the full horror of the situation. And there are a handful of “stirring” speeches about the heroism of the protest movement. I don’t doubt that heroism for a second and the tone of these speeches might be drawn from a cultural context I don’t understand, but, with my limited knowledge, that tone sounds naïve.

Overall, though, I’m grateful for this event. Its politics are meaningful. And I love being exposed to innovative art — especially when it’s live.

YELLOW OBJECTS An exhibition by Derek Chan. Developed by rice & beans theatre in collaboration with the Playwrights Theatre Centre. Presented by the Firehall Arts Centre. Experienced on Friday, May 14. Running until Saturday, May 29 at the Firehall Arts Centre. Tickets.

 

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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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