East Meets West

Theatre design development in Hong Kong


Zachary Wong 黃瑋皓



This research aims to record Cantonese Xiqu theatre and its evolution from a modern point of view, to explore the interactions between Cantonese Xiqu and Hong Kong theatre architecture, and to understand how Eastern art form has influenced Western theatre architecture.

To understand the development of theatre design, theatres from different eras were studied. The earliest permanent theatre staging Cantonese Xiqu was built in the 1860s. In the beginning of the 1930s, there was a boom in purpose-built theatres due to the prosperity of the business and the dramatic increase in film productions. The level of hygiene, safety, comfort, and cinematic effects in theatres were therefore elevated for commercial competitiveness. Government-built performance venues continued to grow in numbers in the post-war period. The opening of the Xiqu Centre in 2019 marked a new page for theatre architecture in Hong Kong.

Key findings are as follows:
1. The traditional temporary bamboo theatre was one of the earliest platforms for performing Cantonese Xiqu. The architectural design and traditions involved had a significant influence on present-day theatres;

2. With 1,738 seats, Tai Ping Theatre (1931) was the largest theatre in the early 20th Century, even larger than many present-day theatres, representing the heyday of Cantonese Xiqu;

3. Sun Beam Theatre remains one of the most important theatres for Cantonese Xiqu to this day. In addition to being a part of Hong Kong’s collective memory, Sun Beam Theatre has made major improvements in terms of architectural design and safety compared to the older theatres;

4. Unlike many other venues built by the Hong Kong Government, Ko Shan Theatre New Wing was designed for staging Cantonese Xiqu. Its architectural design is in many ways more catered to Cantonese Xiqu compared to traditional Western theatres;

5. The Xiqu Centre is the latest purpose-built theatre in Hong Kong solely for the performance of Xiqu. The fully automated stage and auditorium marked a new page for Cantonese Xiqu in the modern era.

The examination of theatres from different eras shows that theatre design has been shaped by changing social values and technology. The purpose of Cantonese Xiqu has evolved from religious celebrations, to mainstream entertainment, to cultural preservation. The focus of theatre architecture has shifted from facilitating the quantity of productions to the quality of productions. It is anticipated that more changes will be brought to theatre design in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

* This research is supported and funded by the HKIA CPD Research Fund.

Xiqu Centre (Credit: Zachary Wong)