Father in the Hole

Mon 13th – Sat 25th August 2018


Thomas Goodyer

at 18:10 on 17th Aug 2018



‘Father in the Hole’ might be one of the sweetest, most endearing plays I have seen at the Fringe. It tries so earnestly to ingratiate you into Hong Kong funeral customs, re-enacting and explaining each ritual. You get the opportunity to make your own traditional ingots out of paper. You get a complimentary sweet in a long envelope. Its all really lovely: the crimson of the priestly dress, the brassy count of finger-cymbals. Then, you realise that this is supposed to be a drama, a drama about the death of a close family relative no less, with character arcs and emotions and this is where ‘Father in the Hole’ falls short.

It must be very difficult to convey the importance and meaning of these traditions and deliver a compelling story line, especially when working with a translation, but the way The Circus Drama Theatre Group choose to do it is simply odd. Main actress Gabby So, who plays a girl that supposedly doesn’t know anything about these traditions, but must organise a funeral for her recently deceased father, just reels off her thoughts to the audience. Parts literally come out as ‘I feel this, now I feel this,’ while the whole premise is confused by the fact that she is also the one telling the audience about the funeral traditions. She does look like she truly enjoys playing the role, which again is lovely, but perhaps a little incongruous considering her father is meant to have just died.

Things only get stranger. In her attempts to find a columbarium for the ashes, she finds herself confronted with circular bureaucracy, a peculiarly lecherous columbarium seller and a lack of funds. After an abrupt time-jump of four years, we learn that she has herself invented a digital columbarium and is selling them for a profit, so that her father can one day be laid to rest in the best columbarium. To be brief, the narrative makes no actual sense.

I had a lovely time, but unfortunately this isn’t a good play. As a visual demonstration of Taoist death praxes it’s a really fun experience; as a play it just doesn’t do half of the things that make a play a play. I was confronted with the ungainly, Latinate syllables of the word “columbarium” more times in 40 minutes than I have ever been in my life. I was taught that I need to remember my father’s favourite breakfast food if I ever want to bury him in Hong Kong, because that’s apparently something the Hong Kong government keep tabs on, “in these days of back-data.” But mostly I was left puzzled, and chewing to the sharpness of the complimentary orange Starburst.


Rowan Evans

at 23:12 on 17th Aug 2018



Learning about a different culture can make for an intriguing show. What that needs in the context of a Fringe show is interesting ideas and interesting ways in which to deliver those ideas.

I found ‘Father in the Hole’ interesting to an extent, yet dull on the whole. The title and poster felt juxtaposed to the actual content of the play – not being at all as funny as it set itself up to be. There were some attempts at humour, but these were stilted at best.

The production was educational for the most part. It followed Ms Chen - whose father had died - learning from a Chinese priest about Hong Kong funerals. This was weird in that she had said she had already been to four funerals, but I chose to ignore this.

It was all quite quaint. The audience was instructed to “bow three times for the deceased” at the start of the show. This made me feel as if I was participating in the funeral rather than being a mere spectator.

The whole funeral ritual was interesting to witness. There was a great moment where two priests danced in the dark – neon lights adorning their costumes – and a red lit bowl in the middle exploded with confetti.

The second half of the play, however, was long, boring and lost all educational interest. This felt down to the flat plot and flatter characters. You would think Ms Chen would be mourning her father’s death – it was strange that she was more concerned with her excitement for the funeral.

Some scenes were arduous to sit through. There was a call centre gag at one point which appeared as if it would never end. By the end, I regret to say, I wanted out.

If I was going to use one word to describe the experience it would be “nice”. But “nice” is not enough to make a piece of theatre worth seeing. I appreciate their sentiment, but ‘Father in the Hole’ was not for me.


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