First Night Nerves (2018) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Cheng Cong, the matriarch of a wealthy Shanghainese family in Hong Kong, is financing the production of a new play in Hong Kong's venerable City Hall. The play is Two Sisters, a retro melodrama in the vein of Tennessee Williams, written and directed by the trans woman Ouyang An. As the two sisters of the title, the production will star Yuan Xiuling (a stage veteran making a comeback five years after retiring from the theatre, and one year after the death of her faithless husband Cheng Jun - who was Cheng Cong's younger brother) and He Yuwen (a smart movie actress making her stage debut, who happens to have nursed a career-long rivalry with her co-star). The production is scheduled to have its first night in one week's time. The run-up to the first night is eventful. Yuan Xiuling has been left financially embarrassed by her late husband's apparent failure to provide for her, and worries where she will live and how she will pay for her son Yuan's boarding-school fees in England. She has ambivalent feelings about her ultra-supportive fan Fu Sha, the grand-daughter of a banking dynasty, who regularly appears on the gossip pages because of her open lesbian affairs. He Yuwen seems much more self-assured, but is insecure about acting on stage for the first time and constantly provokes writer-director Ouyang An. Both actresses often face intrusive questions from journalists. Their well-known rivalry apparently began when Yuwen was cast as Fleur in a film version of the ghost story Rouge - a role which Xiuling had already played on stage. But when the veteran drama teacher Master Qin dies, a deeper jealousy and resentment comes to light at his funeral. Over the course of the final week of rehearsals, Xiuling has to admit to herself that her marriage to Cheng Jun was a sham (he had a quasi- marital relationship with a waitress in New York, and two children with her), and Cheng Cong has to sort out her family's obligations to both widows. Meanwhile Yuwen has to rediscover her professionalism as she juggles her work commitments and time with her smart-set friends - all the while overcoming her fear of Ouyang An and her impulse to challenge the fragile director. And Ouyang An has to endure a heart-attack scare which results in an urgent stay in hospital. The on-stage/off-stage drama unfolds at a time when Hong Kong itself is changing by the day, and when the City Hall venue is itself under threat from renovation/reconstruction.

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