(Update on 26 September) Performances Cancelled: For epidemic-related reasons, the performances of “The Impossible Trial – a musical” from 27 September to 1 October 2022 (Tuesday to Sunday) at 7:45pm are cancelled. For more information please see our Ticketing Arrangements page or contact us at (852) 2200 0022, [email protected].
First Three Performances Cancelled: As one of the cast members is required to follow the anti-pandemic guidelines and undergo quarantine, the performances of “The Impossible Trial – a musical” on 9 and 11 September 2022 (Friday and Sunday) at 7:45pm, and on 12 September 2022 (Monday) at 2:45pm have are cancelled. For more information please see our Ticketing Arrangements page or contact us at (852) 2200 0022, [email protected].
In a world of injustice, wrong is right and right is wrong
Fong Tong Geng, Guangdong’s most prominent advocate, is known for his greed and malice. But at the height of his career heaven deals him a blow and his reputation and wealth are lost overnight. Haunted by the bitter ghost of a childhood friend, Fong fights his way back to the magistrate to right his wrongs and redeem himself as the champion of the common man.
The Impossible Trial – a musical is commissioned by Freespace, co-presented and co-produced with HKRep. The preview run in 2019 received critical acclaim. Since then, the creative team has devoted time and energy in crafting the fully-fledged production. The world premiere of The Impossible Trial is poised to breathe new life into local original musicals.
“Told through the beautiful songs of golden songwriting duo Leon Ko and Chris Shum, Cheung Fei Fan’s story is unusually effective and captivating – a treat for the eyes and the ears!”
── Rupert Chan, Hong Kong Economic Journal
“The Great Pretender (The Impossible Trial) is a major original musical that brings together Hong Kong’s top creative minds and performers. With music by Leon Ko, lyrics by Chris Shum and Cheung Fei Fan’s script developed over three years, we can expect a great production.”
── Kearen Pang, Performing Artist / Creator
“Carefully written and beautifully constructed, The Great Pretender (now known as The Impossible Trial) blends reason, sentiment and complex character relationships. Powerfully dramatic and highly entertaining, the storyline is both logical and unexpected.”
── Sunny Chan, Film writer / Director
Composer and Musical Director: Leon Ko
Lyricist: Chris Shum
Playwright: Cheung Fei Fan
Director: Fong Chun Kit
Staging Director and Choreographer: Ivanhoe Lam
Scenographer: Wong Yat Kwan*
Dramaturg: Low Kee Hong
Co-choreographer: Lim Wei Wei
Band Leader: Anna Lo
Singing Coach: Lianna Tse
Set Designer: Bill Cheung
Costume Designer: Vanessa Suen Wing Kwan
Lighting Designer: Yeung Tsz Yan
Sound Designer: Can Ha
Cast: Lau Shau Ching, Jordan Cheng, Tunes Ting, Clinton Zhang, Rick Lau, Yau Ting Fai, Fung Chi Yau, Man Sui Hing, Kiki Cheung, ManMan Kwok, Vivian Chan, Adam Tang, Rick Cheung, Christopher Ying, Olga Chung
*Appearance by kind permission of The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts
24 September 2022 (Saturday) Charity Performance sponsored by:
29 September 2022 (Thursday) Charity Performance sponsored by:
25 September 2022 (Sunday) Community Performance sponsored by:
This musical is an accredited event celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
Commissioned, Co-presented and Co-produced by Freespace
Co-presented and Co-produced by:
Cheung Fei Fan
Fong Chun Kit
Wong Yat Kwan
Interview with the Core Creatives of The Impossible Trial, previously known as The Great Pretender
(As published in the house programme for the 2019 preview performance)
The Great Pretender is a project involving ten years of gestation, three years of development, one year of rehearsals, and three hours of performance.
After the curtain falls tonight, The Great Pretender will continue to evolve until its official opening in 2020 and, perhaps, also for the decade after that.
The Great Pretender is an unprecedented experiment in Hong Kong in terms of its subject matter, creation and preparation length – which composer Leon Ko has described as a “luxury”. Having spent years on the work, the team follows the tradition of mainstream theatre in the UK and US of staging previews before the official premiere in order to collect audience feedback.
American and British mainstream musicals often take years to develop. These shows may have a lifespan that continues decades after the official launch. “I would like to explore whether it is possible for a Hong Kong musical to follow this tradition. This is a new challenge for us and the local theatre,” said lyricist Chris Shum.
A Much-Needed Luxury
Chris Shum realised the challenge of putting on a musical with Qing dynasty background, courtroom scenes and a detective plot. “It’s not a common theme for this genre. But that’s what made it interesting. The dialogues in the scenes contain a lot of information about the case, including the time, place and people involved. It wasn’t easy to write the lyrics.”
According to composer Leon Ko, “The difficulty lies in the proportion of stage dialogues to songs. It was only after I had written some music for the show and felt comfortable with it that I agreed to take on the project.”
The musical was also a challenge for the playwright and director. After the first draft, the script went through over 13 rounds of revision. Cheung Fei Fan, playwright, said jokingly, “The revisions were perpetual, especially for the courtroom scenes. There couldn’t be any loopholes in the plot.”
Having the time and space to explore seemed like a luxury for the creative team, but it was, in fact, essential.
Leon Ko and Chris Shum are a golden duo in the Hong Kong musical sphere. One of their works, The Passage Beyond, has won several awards. But as Ko explained, “Many of our previous works were done in a rush. I once wrote 20 songs in half a year. I managed to finish them, but didn’t have time to go back and revise them. One time the songs weren’t even completed the day before rehearsal. Now that we have time to complete all the songs before readings, we can focus not just on the melodies, but on the roles and functions of each song, the ideas, as well as how the lyrics help to heighten the drama.”
Music and Script Working as One
According to director Fong Chun Kit, the soul of a musical is the music. “Music has to come first, its rhythm leads the entire show. Even if the script is ready during rehearsals, without music, actors will lose the rhythm.” Yet, due to the lack of resources in Hong Kong, the schedules for musical productions are often so tight that the songs aren’t completed before rehearsals.
“It’s a luxury if you have a year,” said Leon Ko. “I usually ask for a year to prepare and conceive the music. Then I start writing intensively in the following six months. When West Kowloon commissioned this project it was given the time it needed. They agreed that time is the most important thing and that a preview was necessary. This time, all the songs have been composed before the reading session. There’s time to make revisions – minor ones or more substantial ones.”
Over the past three years, the creative team have made some painful decisions when refining the work. For example, Ko and Shum had written a trio which was revised into a different form. “We were both happy with it, but we realised that it didn’t fit, so we let go of it,” said Chris Shum. Leon Ko added with a wry smile, “You can’t be unwilling to let go, even though it is your own hard work. The music should serve the musical, not your own ego.”
Music and script need to work as one, and improvements require time. “The script has improved a lot since day one. It wouldn’t have gone through so many rounds of revision if there hadn’t been time for the entire team to be part of the process,” said Shum.
Given the nature of musicals, the storyline can’t be too complicated. However, in The Great Pretender, there is a lot of information and the plot needs to be flawless. As Shum said, “It’s easy to leave loopholes when you’re writing detective stories. We managed to avoid them because we were given enough time.”
Through the revisions, the characters became more vivid and complete. “As the plot progresses, the characters learn and grow from their experiences. The more the audience knows about the characters, the more engaged they are,” said playwright Cheung Fei Fan. During readings, the actors asked about the characters’ experiences and interactions that weren’t detailed in the script. “Why does this character feel like that? What leads to this sudden change of emotion?” This was important in shaping the characters’ personalities.
Musicals Emphasise Rhythm and Accuracy
The production period of musicals in Hong Kong usually spans a year. Yet, the creative team of The Great Pretender was given three years to compose the music and lyrics, and two years to write the script.
“Although I could verbally explain the story to the actors,” said director Fong Chun Kit, “I’d need to listen to the songs to get the feel of the music, rhythm, tempo and melody, in order to be sure where to place the actors. Leon’s songs are meticulous and detailed. Sometimes there is a common melody running through some of the songs to represent the journey of a character. To direct well, I have to know these details.” The biggest challenge of presenting a musical is that actors need to be familiar with the songs, dances, moves, and their stage positions. In this project, there was enough time for rehearsals.
“The number of bars in a song will determine the rhythm of that particular scene,” explained Fong Chun Kit. The actors’ movements have to follow the music. That’s why stage directions are needed. It is only through failures and rehearsals that the actors can get them right. Say, for example, there are ten people in a scene, they all have to coordinate their movements, because it’d be distracting even if just one of them misses a step. In plays there’s room for improvisation, but musicals have to be precise. A musical involves acting, dancing and singing. One needs to be well-practiced in order not to make mistakes.”
Feedback from the Audience Provides Motivation for Perfection
“As the director,” said Fong Chun Kit, “I sometimes sit at the back of the stalls to watch the audience’s reaction. Things that seemed natural to me may not be received the same way by the audience. Their feedback means a great deal. I find new motivation every time I join the post-performance discussions. Musicals are a collaborative effort involving lots of back and forth, and it’s only through discussion that a work can improve. By inspiring each other, we hope to refine the songs and script, and shape the best version of the work we can.”
Text by Hilary Wong
English translation by Flora Chung
Co-presented and Co-produced by: