宿 (stay) | Kurinji & SAtheCollective with OzAsia Festival

Image by Jacquie Manning

History is an inescapable force. It settles deep into the soil and reverberates forward through time. In this new multidisciplinary collaborative production that spans Australia and Singapore, the consequences of a generations-old crime crop up in the lives of three seemingly unrelated women. What about their past is hiding in plain sight?

Written by S. Shakthidharan and co-directed with Andy Chia, 宿 (stay) began at the end with Thwayya (Aimée Falzon), contacting Violet (Jasmin Sheppard) about some ancestral bones found on her family’s property. Thwayya had had enough of the land and was finally selling up but the mystery of these bones delayed her plans as the women unravelled a long-buried secret. Back in the 19th century, Violet’s great-great-great grandmother Daisy (Sheppard) was pregnant and in love with an immigrant gold hunter named An Hoo (Charles Wu), living and working on Thwayya’s great-great-great grandmother’s property as a servant. As the women discovered each of their family’s relationship to the land, the descendants of An Hoo’s Singaporean family Tsuet-Cheng (Natalie Alexandra Tse) and Desmond (Govin Tan) were also navigating their complicated inheritance.

In order to blend all of these lives together, the production integrated dance, film, music, and theatrical narrative. The music, in particular, with the filmed performance (Chia, Tsi, Tan, and Vick Low) and live performance (Falzon and Wu) added significant texture and depth to the production with a cultural and emotional immediacy that amplified the narrative’s arcs. Additionally, the set design by Dale Ferguson, which used screens spread horizontally and vertically to display Elias Nohra’s audio visual design of the Australian and Singaporean settings, worked well to realistically evoke the vastly different locations.

宿 (stay) was an ambitious production in terms of design and narrative scope, the latter of which led to its downfall. With three actors on stage at most, the characters were often dwarfed by the looming industrial darkness of the Carriageworks venue. Inventive lighting design by Karen Norris, which used focused spots to mimic starlight and glittering skyscrapers, worked for the Singaporean setting but the sloped flooring in the Australian portions wasn’t bold enough to combat the gaping emptiness behind each scene. In a similar way, the script was mismatched to the production’s time restraints, trying to cram a sweeping family epic into under two hours, which left the characters simply rendered and their narrative arcs feeling forced.

There was great potential in this production to address uncomfortable truths about Australia’s colonial history and the intersecting interests of the nation’s multicultural descendants. But the easy answers and overly-contrived sentimentality undercut moments of more poignant authenticity.

宿 (stay) is running at Carriageworks from January 12th – 16th

Night Writes stands in solidarity with Palestinian people, activists, and BDS organisers as they call for a boycott of Sydney Festival 2022. Night Writes condemns the sponsorship of Sydney Festival by the Israeli Embassy as collaboration with an apartheid regime. By refusing to return the sponsorship, Sydney Festival has compromised itself and its programmed artists two years into a pandemic that has devastated the arts community. For more information and to sign the open letter, visit here.

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