Sep 7, 2010

Chewing Over Hong Kong Felafel

The Hong Kong treatment of He Died With a Felafel in His Hand was the first version to be staged since my own efforts in April/May 2009 and the January 2010 revival. I guess you always love your own baby the most, but I can honestly say that I walked into the Fringe Club in downtown HK on Thursday 2 September feeling genuine excitement.

You see, the Felafel script is like a good recipe. You improvise with the ingredients to suit the time and the season; giving it your own particular twist. But the composite of freaky foundation flavours always shines through; tried and tested, they're guaranteed to tingle the taste buds.

So I was keen to see this interpretation by a bunch of Aussie ex-pats - with a couple of Yanks and a few Hong Kong locals thrown in for good measure. I wasn't disappointed. The WAP Productions team, helmed by Wendy Herbert and Damien Barnes, put together a strong show that rocked the relatively tiny 80-seat Fringe Club theatre.

Samuel J Craig was a fine young JB, the central character around whose brown couch the thunder rolls. Craig was scruffy but charming, and reminded me a great deal of Brisbane actor Paul Denny, who played JB in the first Felafel production I ever saw at La Boite in 1999.

My JB, played by the brilliant Shaun King, being slightly older, had a world-weariness about him, telling his tales as cautions to those embarking on their first sharehouse adventures. Craig retained a skerrick of hope that the next house would be better; the dishes cleaner, the residents only half-insane. Sadly he was to be constantly disappointed. I enjoyed the differences between their characterisations - Mr John Birmingham has certainly had many fine actors portraying him over the 15 years Felafel has been around.

This cast, at 16, was three bigger than my own - but all claimed their moments on the stage, no matter how small. Other standouts included Andrew Kirk as a particularly "woggy" Popov, the Latvian strip club enthusiast with a penchant for yelling "farken" after everything; Louisa Ward as Miss Waipukurau (the "guide" to everything sharehouse, melding a number of different characters); and Sam McMullan as a laconic Decoy (so interesting to watch when Michael Fitzhywel and I had agreed that Decoy was a pathetically pitable, puppy-like man). Korean Keon Lee was hysterical in all of his roles, giving our own Jamie McKinnell a run for his money as Rhino and the Lizard Man. I played Veronica, a post-op transsexual in the revival version of Felafel; here the small cameo part belonged to Rye Bautista, aka La Chiquitta, one of the hottest female impersonators on the island. I must admit to not being a very good woman playing a man playing a woman playing a .... well, now I'm confused, but Bautista has cheekbones to die for.

There were some great touches I wish I'd thought of: putting the pneumatic Sweden Milka in an Viking helmet; actually bringing out the infamous "Plastic Wendy" sex doll; and giving Serena a pole to dance around. Of course, there were some things I thought we did better: our stage choreography and direction seemed tighter and/or more dynamic in places (I'm thinking the Nina/Decoy/Lucinda scene); I loved the work our girls did with saucy dance numbers; and we went heavier on the "schlong", fully dacking the smelly-trousered Milo (mind you, perhaps that would've been too much for the Hong Kong audience, particularly after I heard the older lady next to me asking her husband what a "snatch" was).

I couldn't have been more chuffed to see references to my own production in there: Gay Dirk serenaded an unconscious JB with a rainbow flag draped over him like the Virgin Mary; and the girls beat up the notoriously reprehensible Downstairs Ivan with sex toys (albeit without a dance routine to Britney Spears' Womanizer).

Audiences reacted well to the very Australian sense of humour about the play; even if they weren't fully across references to Lawrence Springborg, The Velvet Cigar and Swank magazine (although the joke about why they bothered leaving the "S" on the front transcends all cultural differences). Local references went down a treat: dodgy businessman Eddie Groves became dodgy Hong Kong feng shui master Tony Chan. I didn't know who he was, but the roar of laughter upon the utterance of that name assured me that the audience well and truly did.

And that's the thing about Felafel. If there's something you don't get, or don't like (the infamous coathanger moment attracted audible cries of "No!" and "That's disgusting!"), there's always something different just around the corner. Every taste is catered for - well, as long as you like things on the obscene end of the scale. Which I very much do.

It was a great pleasure to see the HK Felafel, and I'd like to thank Wendy, Damien and the entire cast and crew for giving me such a warm welcome. It truly was exciting to sit in the dark as an audience member, watching this show I'm so familiar with as an actor and director. Often I'd sit up straight, suddenly remembering an impending joke; other times, the lines would catch me by surprise. It was, overall, a glorious experience - in which I just had to sit back and let the filth wash over me.

Congratulations to all involved.


  1. Wow, great review you should do this professionally. I am sorry I wasn't in HK to see it.

  2. Every culture has a famous dodgy business man, I'm sure. Great review!

  3. You keep mentioning Shaun King. You don't mean a guy frequently nicknamed "Arian", do you?

  4. Hey Flinthart! Yes, I'm sure I left a reply to this for you on Medway's blog.... it's one and the same!

    Shaun's actually just starting directing a Terry Pratchett show up here at the BAT - he's very active.

    Thanks for your comments, guys.

  5. Thanks for the review and great to meet you. The video is awesome farken... Popov...

  6. Must say I wasn't filled with the sense of being there till I read your much-awaited piece on the show Nat.

    Beautifully observed, welcome to the pure filth that is the inner sanctum.

    Looking forward to our next adventure.
    I've started sketching an outline.

    L'shana tova x Bedes xx

  7. Cheers for all your kind words and comments. I like reading the "uncut" version here on your blog.

    Keon the Korean

  8. Hey Keon! Thanks for dropping. I find Felafel, like most things, is better uncut. ;)

    I'd love to get a copy of your little Felafel magazine too for Simon the playwright if at all possible!