'The Year of the Cello' by Marjorie Chan

Theatre Passe Muraille

Dahlia Katz

Dave Rabjohn

A fascinating world premiere of ‘The Year of the Cello’ written and directed by Marjorie Chan has opened at Theatre Passe Muraille co-produced by Music Picnic. It is a beautiful piece that includes poetry and the music of a single cello.

It is co-created by Njo Kong Kie, also the composer, along with Marjorie Chan and was workshopped by a number of groups including Cahoots Theatre, Factory Theatre and the Playwrights Lab at the Banff Centre for the Arts.

Charmingly narrated by Rong Fu, she tells the story of 1920’s Hong Kong and her experiences with her friend Li An through those difficult times. An encounter with a cellist unwraps many stories about east versus west, old and new traditions, love lost and love found. The story has a number of contemporary connections including references to the bubonic plague which afflicted that city. But it is the music that is front and centre – not a background nicety.

The cello music is what unlocks the many memories of the two girls. What a perfect choice – the cello, in particular, is a versatile instrument. It can be severe with some wild discordant specialty sounds and some harsh plucking of the strings. But, of course, it is the dreamy, mournful beauty of the bow that emanates such emotion.

Rong Fu is delightful as she quietly, but masterfully recounts the memoirs with an air of confidence. She also demonstrates moments of vulnerability and even fear. She gives the poetry a purposeful dignity. At this production the cello musician was Bryan Holt – clearly accomplished. He alternates performances with Brenden Rogers.

This production offers some creative and unique opportunities to embrace a larger audience – especially those with disabilities. The in-person performance is in a relaxed format. For the blind, it also offers a digital “audio-only experience created with binaural sound technology, providing a 360-degree listening experience.” This is beyond this writer’s technical language - the program describes it in more detail.
The production designer is Echo Zhou who brings some effective touches to the set. A stylized bed centres the main space, along with a large imposing gramophone which sets the time. A balcony high above, where the cellist performs, offers the strength of the music over the story below.

The powerful final scene emanates from its simplicity – a lengthy solo by Mr. Holt has Rong Fu gazing softly into herself while the audience contemplates the power of music and story.

‘The Year of the Cello’ by Marjorie Chan.

Performers: Rong Fu, Bryan Holt, Brendan Rogers.

Directed by: Marjorie Chan.

Composer: Njo Kong Kie.

Production Designer: Echo Zhou

Production runs through October 29, 2022.

Tickets at: www.passemuraille.ca

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