‘Home is where the heart
is’: this is the nothing-new theme at the core of British East Asian theatre
company Yellow Earth’s Boom. With a cast of five, and two
intertwined storylines, the play explores what makes home so important, and why
we get so emotionally attached to our bricks and mortar. Although, aren't we
are all agreed on this already?
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.