Directed by Nelson Chia
(Part of Singapore Writers Festival)
The Arts House, Play Den
5th July 2012 (Thursday), 8pm
(2 Plays, an hour each, with 15 minutes intermission between plays)
Ushering To Think Beyond.
Uttering in two languages, two plays – one in Mandarin, one in English.
The second season of Utter, a yearly event of Singapore Writers Festival, was going to bring you through a journey of how it was like to transform a 495 pages of Chinese novel by Yeng Pway Ngon and a English prose by O Thiam Chin (both local writers), into the world of theatre before your eyes.
This was really a great opportunity and a solid test on the skill of any playwrights in taking up this challenge to bridge these two similar, but yet different genres of art form from one to another with their gift of words. Bravo to both our very courageous and talented local playwrights, Lee Chee Keng who wrote for the Chinese play and Jean Tay who wrote for the English one.
The desire of a writer is to transfer his or her thoughts and ideas on paper, while the director will absorb them in directing the actors to present the story out to us audience. The progress might sound easy on paper but one never knows how the labour can be a pain-taking one, until you have been through it, and then able to appreciate much with another person’s work, with more objective of your Likes or Dislikes.
Before the first play (in Mandarin), “Shadows in the Jungle” from Yeng’s The Studio (2011), had taken off the stage, Johnny Ng played as a writer sat in front of his typewriter, covered his face with his hands pressing hard at his forehead, was suffering from his writer’s block.
And after having his 82nd helping of coffee, his mind went back to his story, as though his spirit had been wondering through the jungle as he met with the character or characters he created, not able to tell if they were fictional or not.
In this jungle, newcomer Jian Xiong, met his senior comrade, a long service communist Big Beard for the first time. Due to some politic issues, they were forced to hide inside this jungle, supporting each other in good health or bad, in the daily necessities. The more experienced Big Beard guided Jian Xiong how to cope with the mediocrity of their slow and purposeless life in their hiding place. Their friendship was built as the time went by…
Not only the two men were losing trace of time, me too, was also losing focus for the first long monologue by Jian Xiong though the sentences had been beautifully crafted. Monologue in a theatre can be difficult to hold the audience’s attention, very much depend on how well these lines have been written and also how much charisma the performer has, in order to keep the audience’s eyes fixed on him or her.
It was not fair for me to comment whether Yang Kai Jie (who played Jian Xiong) had that kind of charisma a not, as his back was facing towards me, which I could only hear him reading through the script with emotions but not able to see his expression, because of the nature of how the stage was laid out, to have their audience around them but not in front (unless the performer moved one’s body to engage an eye contact with everyone, but not in this case). Therefore, I felt it would be a disadvantage to plan a lengthy monologue in this kind of setting of stage, when not all the audience members were able to see all the performers’ expression all the time.
I would like to suggest having more movements from the characters, before we had our minds wondering nowhere or in our own world, but the last thing to do with this jungle.
But before I nearly gave this story up unwillingly, as I always like to bring a reflective thought or two from any plays I watch, not leaving the theatre ‘empty-handed’. Big Beard had awoken me with this provoking question, “If you could Only bring ONE book into the jungle, which book will you choose?” I had asked myself this question long before and got my answer already. This question which brought up again here, had gave me a chance to reassure my initial answer.
The second part of this play was more meaningful to me when more and more soul searching questions had been raised.
Questions like, “Literature and living hood, which one would you choose?”, “How much are you willing to give up for your passion?”, “Will you fight for what you believe?”, “Will you dare to be different?”, etc.
The journey of a writer can be lonely one, while longing to get recognition from the crowd, but yet not wanting to be confined by limitation. Does a writer write to please the readers, or to have the mind of one’s own to write freely? How brave can one be to be unique?? And how truthful can one be to be your true self?
Have you found the real purpose in your life? Or have you already gotten lost in the jungle of society being tied down by the norms?
These are the questions which I brought back with me from the first play.
The second play was in English, two prose which taken from a book, “The Rest of Your Life & Everything that comes with it” (2011), from titles “The Yellow Elephant” and “The Girl Who Swallowed the Sun”.
This play continued as the same writer (Johnny Ng) now thinking of “his” another two stories, which I would like to them counter-linked with one another. I agree with what Corrie Tan had shared in Life! on 7th July, that the present of the writer, was a kind of distraction, while “he observes the action from the sidelines with a strange little smile and complete silence”.
The “writer” aside, this time round, the characters in this play had more movements which had made it livelier as compared to the first play. Koh Wan Ching had played her role well as you could empathy with her in her excellent acting, as an unhappy wife, who found her husband disappeared one fine day, but on the same day, had a huge yellow elephant appeared in her HDB flat, swallowing up her furniture.
Another story which preformed inter-crossing with the unhappy wife’s story, was about a girl who had been long time bullied by her female schoolmates, took up the dare to swallow the sun but to her shocking upon her act, made her body shone brightly. Being seemed as a ‘monster’, she could not dare to face anyone, but chose to hide in deepest depth of the well, while a teenage boy, who had been secretly admiring her for a long time, came to look for her, trying to win her love and trust to leave the well she was hiding, to leave with him to start a life afresh.
I would like to see these two stories being put together, as if I was entering into a mind of a woman, of her unfulfilling relationship with her another half, longing to be loved and to be in touch with him, but was trapped in her complicating web of thoughts, fantasized with her colourful imaginations.
A human’s mind can be complex, maybe especially in a woman. When communication had broken down, the link of the relationship will be affected. But not only that, there might be a deadly danger of self destruction if one continued in dwelling too much on the problems itself, and not getting go to be set free.
While you may want to understand these two plays in a complete picture, maybe you might be more enlightened if you could just take a few glimpse of it instead.
Maybe the more you might want to understand something, the more you get even more confuse.
Maybe the issue is a simple one, but we would like to think it a bit too complicated.
Maybe there isn’t any problem in the first place, but we like to create one.
Maybe we are all free people individual, but we like to chain ourselves with an unseen lock.
Maybe if you could just take a few thoughts away from this play, without reading too much from it, you could be more easily being ushered through, beyond what you can imagine.
Maybe by not trying too hard to please to get other’s recognition, and just truly be yourself while letting the nature takes its course, then you might be able to understand what life really is and be able to achieve what a real liberation is!