A Reflection on Hector

Much like a mad Romantic, on an insignificant rainy Monday I found myself writing a play. 

I wrote the entire first draft in one frenzied sitting in the university library. My creative process is often like this—an idea brews for a while, then all bursts out in one go. I’d previously written a prototype for this play, but true inspiration struck when I decided to narrow it down to just two characters, both called Hector.

The first Hector is a real historical figure: the 19th-century French composer Hector Berlioz. I happened upon him in a music history course, where we read some of his Memoirs. The very opening passage reads:

“Decidedly ours is a prosaic century. On no other grounds can my wounded vanity account for the humiliating fact that no auspicious omens, no mighty portents—such as heralded the birth of the great men of the golden age of poetry—gave notice of my coming.”

Hector Berlioz, Memoirs

I almost wanted to laugh out loud at how pompous and ridiculous it was. He seemed to me such a caricature, an everyman of the Romantic generation—dramatic, egotistical, tortured. A clear vision of this character emerged right from the moment that I read those few opening sentences.

Hector Wong, the other character, is a very different kind of everyman. He’s a Chinese Wellingtonian, which might seem like a bit of a self-insert—and indeed it is, but he also represents many stories from my Asian family and friends. His parents run a takeaway restaurant; he gets teased in school playgrounds; he gets told he’s ‘basically white’—experiences that I think a lot of Asian New Zealanders can relate to.

His character stays low, always trying to keep out of the way, which constantly clashes with Hector Berlioz’s flamboyant displays of the self. The two discuss incels, art, life, death, Shakespeare, symphonies, dating apps, martinis, soldiers, heroes, and basically every topic you could think of. But throughout it all, the underlying question remains—how much should we take from history, and how much should we discard? Especially as a queer, Asian woman who historically would have been repressed, it’s difficult to know how much to idolise the canons of poetry and classical music I work in.

As I write this, we’re a week out from opening. This is always such an exciting time to be in; when everything starts falling into place and you feel like you have an actual show. My long-time high school friend Lewis Thomson is playing Hector Berlioz, while Dennis Eir Lim is playing Hector Wong. Hazel Perigo-Blackburn is directing alongside me, Jackson McCarthy is acting as our dramaturg and Kassandra Wang is in charge of lighting and sound. 

We’re all young and fresh to the scene, with many of us still finishing our degrees—it’s so much fun working with like-minded young creatives and I always learn so much in the process. This play in particular requires a lot from the actors, who are constantly having to converse with each other, morph identities, and recite monologues. It has been pretty difficult, but when we get it right, it’s so intimate and illuminating to see how these two men reflect and warp each other.

This is the team’s second production, our first being the musical In Blind Faith, which was a colonial goldfields romp set in 1800s Otago. I loved putting on that musical and telling an early Asian settler story, but I feel that Hector is a big step up in complexity and is more instantly relatable to people in the modern era. Its focus on men in particular brings to light a lot of topics that are increasingly being highlighted, such as the increasing right-wing radicalisation of young men, the ways patriarchy impacts men as well as women and the homoeroticism that is present in many male relationships portrayed in the media. Not to say that the play is all deep and gloomy either—I wanted it to show these ideas in a snappy, fun way that never feels like a lesson or a chore.

This has been a wonderful experience for me, and I’ve learned so much about the medium of theatre. Having left a year in between full-scale productions, it’s refreshing to return to the theatre and all that comes with it—the red seats, the dim stage, the messing around backstage. If you’re based in Pōneke, I hope you consider coming along to support us young creatives, and to hopefully have an entertaining (yet illuminating) night out.

Hector is on from 18–22 June at BATS Theatre in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington. The shows begin at 6:30pm, with a 4:00pm matinee on 22 June. Ticket prices range from $15 to $40, and can be booked here: https://bats.co.nz/whats-on/hector/.


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