Bjork has never ceased to amaze, and she’s been doing it for quite some time now. Back at Christmas, 1995, she released "It’s Oh So Quiet", her sort-of-Broadway take on Betty Hutton’s old song "Blow a Fuse", and the odd amalgam of run-down sleazy locations with stereotypical musical routines made it to Number Four in the British charts. So maybe it’s not too surprising that Clifton Kwan has adapted the title of her song for the name of his new show, It’s Oh So Queer, which will run at the Shau Kee School of Creativity Multi Media Theatre between Feb 11 and 13. I went to meet Clifton between rehearsals at the Hong Kong Arts Centre to find out about him and his production, and found his choice of title did not indicate any attempt to emulate the strangeness of his titular inspiration!
I should have guessed that he was likely to be both talented and have his head screwed on the right way, of course, as this is his third show. He’d managed to pack all his houses for the first two, both productions of his own drama, Singles in Love, which ran for six shows in the Sheung Wan Civic Centre in July 2010. His second production There’s A Kind of Hush, which was shown in Sai Wan Ho Civic Centre, followed in September last year. The show was about friendship, but touched briefly on gay life, for its main character, a woman, falls for a guy who’s been the boyfriend of another lover. That show, like his present one, included Clifton in a starring role in which he sang as well as acted (he sings in the new show, too, singing the theme song for which he’s written the lyrics).
Now he’s gone for a full-on approach to a gay theme, which is almost as clear from the show’s Chinese title, My Simple Life, as it is from the English, for the Cantonese word for ‘simple’ is a pun on ‘gay’. Its main character, Jeremy, played as before by Clifton himself, finds that gay single life is not simple at all and the show runs the audience through the whole gamut of the issues that affect it in Hong Kong: politics, work, relationships, feelings, religion, the whole lot. Some of it, though Clifton won’t reveal which parts, is what he’s gained from his own experience and those gay men among us who will have the chance to see the show will recognise much that they can relate to in their own lives. It’s Clifton’s intent that Jeremy’s life to show up a lot of the stupidities of straight life, for instance the failure of many heterosexuals to understand anything about gay men’s lives and the contortions many gay men have to go through to cope with this. There’s a good deal that’s touching in the show, and this all may sound very serious, which it isn’t, for there’s plenty of humour as well to lighten the theme.
The stage is where Clifton has always been heading, though he didn’t get there in a bee line. He is Hong Kong-born but was educated in Vancouver from the age of ten, so he has a distinct Canadian burr to his voice. He studied at the University of British Columbia, wanting all along to go into the theatre, but his family saw this as a career mistake, and it was not until he worked as a radio and TV host in Vancouver for five years that his life began to change in a direction he could be happy with. Radio brought him out of himself and he learned how to work with people from all walks of life, including showbiz. He became a make up artist (his interest in make up is still evident from the advertising for his new show) and came back to Hong Kong in 2004. There, he freelanced until 2007, watching the burgeoning Hong Kong drama scene and wanting all along to be a part of it. That year, Hong Kong’s ex-DJ and multi-media personality Missy Hyperbitch invited Clifton to help out with a Cantonese musical theatre production she was mounting, and he has never looked back. Three years later, his own first show was staged.
This rapid trajectory has brought Clifton into the ranks of a select but growing number of live performers who have started to open up the issues of gay life to Hong Kong’s clearly unfazed and increasingly appreciative audiences. Openly gay actor Joey Leung has starred four times in Alvin Wong Chi-lung’s Queer Show since it was first staged in 2004 and has reprised the role in several of Alvin’s other productions.
Cabaret singer Rick Lau has been singing to us almost every year about gay love since he first came back from Australia to sing in Sunrice in Hong Kong in 2006. The trio of Frankie Ho, Pichead Amornsomboom and Tony Wong gave us the incredibly flamboyant gay musical Homo Superus twice in 2007. Last year, Derek Wong gave us his take on coming out as a Chinese gay man in the States in his one man show My Very First Time. It’s remarkable to see the genre expanding so.
The only problem for the linguistically-challenged in Hong Kong is that almost all of this is in Cantonese. Clifton has not been able this time to produce English supertitles for the show. It’s a real bug-bear in Hong Kong that the cutting edge of theatre is often veiled from the non-Chinese part of the community because there are no resources for translation. It’s something the Hong Kong Government really could do to help out with not a very large expenditure. The irony is that the Government’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department often stages these shows in its own venues and even sponsors some of them. Translation would bring these shows to an international audience; at present they are trapped in Hong Kong. Clifton himself, though, has no problem with putting his show into English, and has plans to do so in future. English speakers can only look forward to his doing so.
It’s Oh So Queer shows at Shau Kee School of Creativity Multi Media Theatre on Friday, Feb 11 to Sunday, Feb 13 at 8pm and on Saturday, Feb 12 to Sunday, Feb 13 at 3pm. Tickets are available for HK$150 and HK$190 at Urbtix outlets and at www.urbtix.hk.