Review: Dreamers 夢中人
Updated: Aug 1
By Jeffrey Choy
Dreamers 夢中人 is created by Papergang Theatre at Omnibus Theatre and sees a multidisciplinary group of BESEA artists come together to track the changes in Hong Kong over the past two years through a constantly evolving compilation of lived experience, live art, and dance as well as live digital interactions. Performed by a cast of actors who remain anonymous throughout to protect their identities.
Papergang Theatre is tasked with the monumental task of creating a sequel to its Vault Festival award-winning 2020 show Freedom Hi 自由閪, during the social movement, which started in late 2019, stepping into one of its most heated periods. Two years later, the social movement has since died down due to the erection of national security law, and since the world has moved its attention to the pandemic, masks and vaccinations, and now the Russo-Ukrainian War; Hongkongers have moved on from their social movement to BN(O) visa migration and Canto-pop boy bands.
How do you even begin to recount an issue that seemingly ended without resolution and create a performance that captures the lived experience that connects with Hong Kong issues adepts and outsiders alike? A viewer can stem from knowing all about the Hong Kong protest after 2 years, looking for a new perspective, to someone who has little prior experience with said social movement outside of what their local media has presented to them.
Dreamers 夢中人 is a performance that is extremely difficult to review objectively for that reason. Based on what cultural background you came from, what your link with Hong Kong is like, and how much you know about the said issue, all can vastly impact your experience with the performance. So I think it’s only fair if I preface this review with my personal experience (they will become relevant, I promise) and give you some perspective of where I came from. I grew up in Hong Kong and speak Cantonese and English. I self-published a book about the social movement and am familiar with the events. I have watched Freedom Hi 自由閪 at Vault Festival 2020. Instead of presenting the turmoil of battling oppression as its prequel Freedom Hi 自由閪, Dreamers 夢中人 presents two more nuances, personal stories lines about how lives are affected by the social movement. Whether it’s the nightmares of a migrated protester having to live with the trauma of seeing a protester friend be captured and her guilt of being unhanded because of the law enforcement family member that she hates; or the artist couple that are affected by the chaos, forced out of their home and ultimately their city, longing for an eventual return one day. The stories are sandwiched between two monologues that start the entire performance with the literal definition of dreams and ended it with the hopes and dreams of what we experience not just culturally, topically - but also generationally, and reciprocally.
Even without the context or knowledge of the social movement, these are stories that are more universal and easy to get behind than its counterpart in its prequel, cleverly done in a tender and humorous fashion by a great cast. Dreamers 夢中人 is mostly performed in English, with a bit of Cantonese mixed in, most of which I suspect can be understood by context, some might need further explanation that simply could not have been fitted into the dialogues naturally - again, your mileage may vary.
I have a very positive impression of the performance - I could imagine someone watched the prequel and expected something similar or people that are expecting to learn more about the protest from the show might be sorely disappointed - but the beauty of Dreamers 夢中人 is that it lives on with the audiences’ own lived experiences. Throughout many post-show conversations I have had with different people have enlightened me with various interpretations that didn’t occur to me when I was watching Dreamers 夢中人, but they certainly enhances my experience retrospectively.
One of these moments is when the cast is dressed up as sailors and travel on sea chanting gibberish, it was humorous and fun and I didn’t give it too many thoughts at the time, but someone pointed out to me that it’s referencing ‘The Sail of the Eight Immortals 八仙過海’, which is a mythical story of 8 immortal deities each showing off their magical powers as they travel through the sea, perhaps representing every Hongkongers bringing something unique in their migration; some say it reminds them of ‘The Raft of the Medusa’ (Scène de Naufrage), Théodore Géricault's magnum opus in 1819 France, depicting a raft of migrants abandoned at sea finding its rescue as the advent of abolitionism in the turbulent society in which he lived.
All these conversations and engagements only add to the enjoyment I have with the performance. Papergang Theatre has marvellously crafted the work that leaves enough room for everyone to put themselves in the show. Whether it’s the detestation of oppressors or the dread of leaving home, there is room for conversations that keeps the artwork, and in turn, the social movement alive.
Dreamers 夢中人 trailer (Source: Papergang Theatre)
6–11 June 2022