British theatre is no stranger to staging tales of journalism, from unpicking the lives of reporters who work in the salacious, satirical world of tabloid journalism to the tests of veteran war reporters’ morality as they fight to hold corrupt governments to account.
But there are other ways of staging journalism and this is what I have attempted to do by writing a play about Hong Kong, my home and an ex-British colony whose freedoms are being swiftly eroded by the Chinese Communist Party.
Many people will be familiar with the Occupy protests of 2014, but it was not until last year, after the million-man march against the controversial extradition bill culminated in police brutality, that Hong Kong’s fight for freedom has been given a spotlight by the world’s media, including harrowing scenes of police brutality against young protestors.
In my new play Life and Death of a Journalist I wanted to explore a different aspect of journalism on stage. The press continues to highlight China’s increasing control of property, nuclear, technology and more in the West, but it often fails to examine its own role in the CCP’s pursuit of world dominance such as paid for adverts in the form of news articles from state-run newspaper China Daily.
This contrary position of integrity versus commerce is one fascinating component of the media and one rarely seen in theatre. So how does one stage these issues when the industry – and its role in shaping our perceptions about China – is persistently evolving?
As a playwright who has so far primarily explored Britain’s relationship with Asia, I am often asked why I do not adapt these ideas for film or television. For me, theatre is a space where we can be unafraid to question, tease and play with those numerous debates, where we are unrestricted in our storytelling form.
It is also a space of immediacy; you don’t need a large budget, you can assemble a strong team of creatives to bring your idea to fruition with the same aims and in the rehearsal room they can challenge you and you can unpick those debates.
More importantly, there is no fear of censorship (or ‘editorial voice’). Recently an interview I gave about this play was pulled from publication in a major Asian newspaper with global reach. This is precisely what I want to provoke with this play – because it highlights the issues we are facing in the wake of an authoritarian power’s unrelenting pursuit of domination through finance.
Like the reporter, the dramatist is holding a mirror up to our hypocrisy and desires. That is what I have attempted to write, set against the backdrop of eroding democracy.
Jingan Young is an award-winning, Hong Kong born playwright, screenwriter and journalist