The one thing that most parents want to do is make life better for their children than it was for themselves. So they strive and work hard and strive to succeed in order to provide a home, a safe place for their child to grow in and every advantage that money can bring. Of course, by the time their child has gone to a nice school and mixed with the right kind of children, they are not necessarily going to be the same type of person their father was. This is illustrated in Writer Max Wilkinson’s Hong Kong City which, after a sell-out run at The White Bear Theatre, has transferred to the King’s Head Theatre.
Sidney (Brian Merry) is very excited as, after an absence of two years, his son Quin (Charlie Weaver) is returning from volunteering in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Sidney has invited everyone to a party to celebrate his son’s return to their Southwark apartment. Quin arrives and is greeted as a returning hero, though when pressed, he seems initially reluctant to talk about his time away. Eventually, he entertains the assembled guests with a story of a trip down the river. Impressed is not the word for the listeners apart from one. Childhood friend Celine (Natasha Culzac) – son of Sidney’s permanently inebriated friend Heller (Abner Motaung) – waits until she is alone with Quin to accuse him of lying and having never been anywhere near the Congo. Meantime, Quin’s dad is worried what his son will do now and offers him work at his construction site – his company is currently working on the redevelopment of the Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle. Quin would be working with his old pal Spencer (Davut-Sebastian Atterbury) and asks the latter to keep an eye on Quin for him. Unfortunately, Quin would rather be spending time with his friends Celine and Blythe (Ellen Hobson) who strongly oppose the ‘gentrification’ of the Elephant and are plotting to stop it.
Hong Kong City is an interesting play in many ways. For me, it has a particular resonance as I am based at the Elephant and have watched the demolition of the notorious Heygate and its rebuilding into very nice, and expensive, high-rise apartments and can feel the frustration of Quin and his mates about what has happened. On the other hand, I used to work for a construction company so can fully identify with the thoughts of Sidney. As such, I found myself wavering between the characters in the show and their aims. I really loved the ‘lefties’ with their very simplistic view of life. I couldn’t help wondering when they were decrying the lack of social housing on the new estate if they would turn into complete NIMBY’s if the local council had said they were building a new estate across the road from them.
Writer Max Wilkinson, who also directs the show, has written some interesting characters for the show. I thought both Quin and his father, in particular, were really good. Both unsure of the other joined together by family ties rather than any form of real friendship. Coming from different generations and with different values, they seemed never to be destined to be as one but, as with most families, they both knew they had to make things work somehow and the final scene of them together is really nice at suggesting there is a future for father and son.
There were some elements of the show which confused me though. Martin and Jane, in particular, seemed a bit superfluous to the story. I did like the way Jane talked down to Quin and Celine about ‘young people’ but otherwise I didn’t really get them as characters. Still, that could have just been me. My other problem with the show was the lack of information. With a running time of around an hour, it is obviously difficult to get everything in but I really wanted to know the truth about Quin’s story and why even his best friends seemed to be so negative about Sidney behind his back. I was really fascinated by both characters but just felt that there was a lot of information missing that would have made them easier to understand as characters.
Ultimately, Hong Kong City was an interesting play that covered a lot of themes in its running time. For me it didn’t entirely work but, at the same time, there were some real elements that struck a resounding chord. This is one of those shows that doesn’t end with the final lights out but instead sparks off some very lively debates among the audience about some of the things happening now and in the future for parents, children and the wider community.
Review by Terry Eastham
After volunteering in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Quin returns home to Southwark. But he’s lying, he was never in Africa. He was in Preston. His suspicious father, Sidney, gets him a job on the ‘Elephant’: the demolition of the Heygate estate to make way for luxury flats. Apathy and intense greed fester in a top floor apartment until it all gives way one Christmas.
Hong Kong City is a dark social-realist comedy about London. Drunk middle-class mothers, grotesque property developers, ’fashionable’ leftists, budding filmmakers.
Hong Kong City, written and directed by Max Wilkinson
The King’s Head Theatre 115 Upper St, N1 1QN