[Review] Four Four Eight - A Review is an Open Letter

25 Mar 2019
Article by Sam Kee
Photos by Crispian Chan, courtesy of Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay

Dear L and Xiaoyi,

This is your most accessible show to date. I like it more than Einstein or the Carpark. I spoke to a few people about their encounters with L. I saw a kaleidoscope of emotions, projections, desires, indifference, selfishness, love and selves. I remember in the early days when I just started writing reviews, I remember one of you (L or Xiaoyi) mentioned that you could see what kind of a person I am, that a review reflects the reviewer more than the production or the artist.

I continue to believe in this, and continue to enjoy looking at a work and examining my self through theatre and text. I saw myself in L, thank you for being a mirror.

11 20190325 review four four eight 02


“We have a professional relationship. I think we have a good relationship. But it’s professional.”


By the time I sit down to look into exhibit L’s eyes, I think he is already emptied. Emptied by someone else before me who sat in this chair, or purposely emptied. Or maybe, the void in his eyes merely confirms that perhaps there’s nothing I am searching for, and therefore there’s nothing I need to read in between his brows. I sit down in the fancy Oxford leather armchair, too big for my size, and heaved a loud sigh, as if trying to expel all my exhaustion from walking around the Esplanade, trying to take in all the poetry in the Little Black Book, all the suspense, mysteries and emotions locked in it, which I am not sure if real or not. L heaves a smaller sigh upon hearing mine. That’s when I started thinking about symmetry and mirrors. I suspect he has already emptied himself to become a vessel, to hold another’s desires, projections and expectations.

I am not interested in how other participants use (or do not use) him. Matching up to how the Booklet addresses and advises each participant to go alone on this journey, I feel very much introverted and withdrawn, among the throngs of visitors to the Esplanade, and even more so when I see others holding up the black booklet as if in solidarity (but I didn’t want to be associated with them). I feel blind to the Others, even when I sit on the same bench with three other participants, who are furiously writing in or reading the Black Book.

Yet at the same time, I am very much grounded to the reality. I identify and speak to some friends along the way, and in the bar. At one point, I thought I’ve lost my ticket stub (to redeem a shot of whiskey), so I am looking up and down for it, jolting me back to reality from the implied author’s world, construed from poems and words.

This frequent code-switch, or body/consciousness-switch, throws me even more deeply into the author’s world, each time I return to it. I wonder if this is how Sarah Kane felt when she wrote 4.48 Psychosis, which Liu Xiaoyi’s Four Four Eight is based on. Or this is how Xiaoyi or L feels when he was constrained in his lab, fulfilling some terms and conditions that his collaborators (Lim Woan Wen and Darren Ng) subjected him to, in the name of Four Four Eight. The work, or Xiaoyi’s experiment, could be about the loneliness he experienced, or aloneness in general. It could even be about each person’s state of mind, for those who came. But he is not your cure, or the solution to your own struggle with relationships or others. Just like the other theatrical projects that he is known for, his appearance in his own work is often just a conversation starter.

11 20190325 review four four eight 01


Four Four Eight 四四八
by Emergency Stairs
Date: 23 Feb 2019
Time: 6:00pm
Venue: The ExciseMan Whisky Bar, Esplanade
Visit event page

  • Four Four Eight 四四八

    Theatre, Festival 19 - 23 Feb 2019 How can one survive and love in a broken world? How do we get along with ourselves?
    The ExciseMan Whisky Bar, Esplanade Mall, #02-27The ExciseMan Whisky Bar, Esplanade Mall, #02-27