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Arts of Hong Kong 2021: Strindberg’s ‘Road to Damascus’ by HKRep

HONG KONG – The Hong Kong Repertory Theatre’s most highly-anticipated production of the season is here, as Strindberg’s Road to Damascus arrives this September. Specially selected by HKRep Director Laureate Fredric Mao, who will direct this landmark masterpiece, this play also marks the first time the company presents Strindberg on stage. 

Road to Damascus is an iconic work charting the playwright’s creative transition from Naturalism to Expressionism. In this play, reality and dreamscapes share a tenuous borderline, the story unfolding with an encounter—perhaps real, perhaps imagined—portraying the struggle of the human soul and the road to self-discovery. 

Road to Damascus follows the Stranger (played by Chris Sun) who is bestowed with talent and riches, yet he finds himself all alone facing the void. As if predestined, he meets a married woman (played by Louisa So) and they begin a torrid affair. But her husband has long been his sworn enemy. When all is said and done, does redemption or catastrophe await him? Told from the personal perspective, Road to Damascus chronicles a journey of self-discovery epitomizing the struggle between man and fate, love, religion and his own ego, laying bare the protagonist’s ups and downs as he refuses to let himself go.

Swedish playwright August Strindberg originally made his name as a proponent of Naturalism, but after a series of personal experiences, his style transformed and he became a pioneer of European Expressionism, adept at conjuring a fantastic milieu with monologues that alienate, in settings where imagination and dreamscape are suspended in the grey area between reality and illusion. Strindberg’s theatrical approach in plumbing the human psyche influenced the development of theatre throughout the entire 20th century.
Renowned filmmaker Ingmar Bergman once described Road to Damascus as “a thrilling voyage in discovery of a spiritual landscape”. 

Director Fredric Mao employs a modern theatrical approach in staging this century-old classic. He states: “Although tradition can hold its own, new reinterpretations can further enhance its contemporary influence. Modernity always needs tradition for nurture, so that a work can sustain its power to continue to develop. In our material world today, I want to offer Hong Kong with a token of thanks, directing a work anew, delving into the individual’s inner values in the search of a better humanity.”

Expressionist dramas emphasise characters’ inner self and psychological journey, encouraging theatregoers to use their spiritual eye to examine their surroundings. In contrast to Naturalism that depicts external, realistic details (e.g., language and action), Expressionism dwells in psychological details, searching for the reality hidden beneath. The theatrical experience presents images, either visual or aural, that can be externalised in their interpretation by the audience.

In conjunction with Road to Damascus, the HKRep also presents a special exhibition chronicling Mao’s achievements and contributions as director, educator, actor and researcher, on display at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Foyer from 11th to 24th September.

Road to Damascus runs from 18th September to 7th October 2021 at Hong Kong City Hall Theatre. Tickets available here

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