The play is set in Singapore in 2008; economic boom has created a need for property that the crowded city cannot provide. A young property developer is trying to convince his mother to leave the tumbledown family home, which is to be redeveloped, and a ghost-whispering civil servant clashes with an uncooperative talking corpse, who is reluctant to conform to plans to relocate his cemetery. The actors slip easily between roles, and between past and present; as performers, they are fluid; their characters’ opinions on their dwellings, however, are not.
The basic tension lies between the march of progress, and the respect for history that resists it; the lure of material gain versus the sticky sentimentalism that rejects all that is new, sparkling and soulless. No surprises there. The characterisation is rather heavy-handed at times: a fig tree in the garden is employed as a stock representation of stability and growth, and there are frequent references to trees as indicators of desirable space; the young, predictably, want things to be shiny and new, and the old want to stay put.
There are touching moments; the great performances from Jay Oliver Yip and Tina Chiang hammer home the idea of a conflict between a son who wants progress, and a mother who wants what she knows, brought to life through chatty dialogue and tender acknowledgement of human foibles and conflicting personal agendas. The stark set (by Wai Yin Kwok) again reinforces the blunt dichotomy between past and future, with a humble bamboo structure on one side and the imposing steel beams of advancement on the other. Less convincing is the gently moaning corpse, who sits up, despite being six feet under, to berate the civil servant, as well as some awkward drama school touches in the property development office: stomping round in a circle, perhaps vaguely symbolic of the relentless wheels of progress, but uncomfortable to watch.
The importance of home is a universally relevant theme. My problem with this play, ironically, is that it leaves itself with nowhere to go.
- Christina Bracewell