In the morning,
I killed a spider. It was an all-white spider –– looking quite like an albino aphid. I didn't mean to kill it. But I was home alone that week and I really did not want to encounter a spider the next morning when I reach out to unlock the gate. I didn't mean to kill it. I held up a rolled-up newsletter, and simply wanting to get the spider on it and send it elsewhere. It spun and dangled off a line of web, we struggled – I flung it onto the ground – it died and curled up into a milky translucent white ball. Many times, we do things we don’t mean to, and end up in a place of contrition.
When I entered the theatre space
of When cloud catches colour in the afternoon, I saw pieces of semi-sheer white cloth stretched across the stage floor, from the ceiling, over some furniture and props (Set Design: Lim Wei Ling) that reminded me of the web this spider was spinning in between the bars of my metal gate. Well, I thought how uncanny. Amidst the fabric webs, performers re-tell the protagonists’ stories verbatim; the issues sprawled out across the stage, much like the canvas cobwebs trapping the performers in. Sometimes, the performers brush aside the web and get past it, other times they re-mould the shape of it. They walk through it, under it, and push against it. In hindsight, I felt that perhaps it was not so much about life being the web trapping you in, but more like what you make of it.
When cloud catches colour is a verbatim theatre based on true accounts telling their stories about their insecurities, struggles, family issues, and relationship issues. Written and directed by Chng Yi Kai, this staging stitches together Qing and E’s accounts, word for word. Through the play, I feel the performers may also have embodied some of the protagonists’ attitudes and vibes, giving colours to the real-life characters. I like how the play preserves the idiosyncrasies of how the protagonists speak, a mix of the Chinese and English language, especially with Qing, his peculiar use of words and phrases when describing his encounters in his youth, in the NS, in love and later, finding companionship ship after the breakup in his fifties.
Julius Foo, embodying the role of Qing, portrays an optimistic outlook despite trying to tell the story of a despairing breakup — with his partner of 20 years. I suppose, at the point of telling his story to the production team, he has already learnt to let go (or perhaps, still letting go).
His story centres on the difficulty of navigating a sudden heartbreak. He does not dwell on how and why the heartbreak happened but talks more about how lost he feels, and how lonely he is as a consequence of the event. And how his notion of ‘home’ (synonymous with the word ‘family’ in Chinese) falls apart. As with all heartbroken souls, Foo begins to question the definition of love, what it means to be content, and his purpose in life.
As the play begins, Foo is lying on the psychedelic floor of the stage, his back to us, curled up in a foetal position. He croons an old Chinese song as the stage begins to brighten, signalling the start of the play. He traverses the tumultuous contours on stage, mostly alone, at the beginning of the play. He also acknowledges the presence of the other protagonist – who is similarly navigating the same terrain – but Foo’s character seems too scared and unsure to connect, to reach out or to care for his fellow traveller. This is also telling of his conservative attitude as an LGBT person in the society he grew up in. He iterates it often in the encounters he tells – not wanting to stand out, not wanting to get into trouble, not wanting to fall into the stereotyped pigeonholes that the mainstream homophobic public conjured in their minds. Like, you know, this guy just wants to live his life out peacefully, contentedly, and intimately with the love of his life – don’t come and burst his personal-space bubble. Imagine his anguish, when he ends up being betrayed by the very person whom he trusted and loved from within his safe bubble. This loss, this betrayal and sense of loss and loneliness are not helped by the fact that at 50, you’re at an awkward age where nobody would take you seriously on a date or think you are a desperate pervert looking for love.
Foo dismantles the bench and the canopy that has signified his home. He moves on to discover new spheres, new boundaries as he walks up and down the stage, over and under the sheets. He redefines spaces, pinning the vertices of the sheets onto new points on stage. He also once locked himself up in a cocoon when he sank to his lowest point in life.
As his story unravels, a paradigm shift in his perspective of life, after he opens up, maps his gradual warming up to the presence of the other protagonist. The verbatim accounts from both protagonists, then, begin to have more intersection points. Although there is not so much as a dialogue happening, we see Foo’s character begins to realise that he is not alone in his struggle.
Opposite Foo, Judy Ngo portrays E’s struggles as she takes on the gruelling role of the main caretaker of her ailing mother –– who isn’t reciprocating her care, or even arrogantly rejecting her care all because she is slighted by E’s gender identity and sexual orientation (But seriously, who knows what these mothers are truly thinking? It could all be an overt rage of her own issues.)
To a small extent, I could empathise with E in this aspect. I think about why it is often people with intrinsic motivation who feel they are obliged to fulfil certain responsibilities and familial roles that are the ones who suffer the most. We get bullied emotionally and mentally, and no matter how much we do, it is not enough for the other party.
I thought: Why can’t we put it down and leave? If this is what the other party wants, why not give in to their desire? Leave them to their own devices la. Walk out. Walk away, and don’t turn to look back.
I often wonder if I could do it myself if one day I, too, have to confront this situation. I have an answer in my head that I psych myself to abide by when the time comes, but I suppose I will never know how truthful my body might react in the moment.
As I leave the theatre space, I want to remember
the playfulness and infinite potential of simple staging and props: the sheets, the hooks, the canopies, the benches and blocks.
I also want to remember how many of us probably share similar struggles: Losing someone you love, being lonely, or stuck with being the only caretaker, and not being appreciated for it. And when shit hits the fan, you are the only one left they turn to, expecting you to rescue them regardless of the price you pay, all the while thinking that it is only right for you to do it. But for the minority groups who are not as privileged as the social “norm” majority, they have even fewer exits, less access to support, more hurdles to clear in their paths to recovery.
Like the clouds that condense in the sky to refract light into its spectrum of colours, the events in our lives accumulate bits and pieces of experiences, new emotions and new perspectives refract incoming encounters into shards of your past, present and tentatively, your future. Do you, like me, get all entangled in the complicated webs of obligations, guilt and fear? Or have you managed to see through the thick of it all, and emerged stronger, and perhaps, one day becoming a mirror for someone else to help them confront their selves?
The play can be a fable if you will, but it can also simply be someone else’s narrative that you sat through and listened quietly to, to reflect on your own.
by Drama Box
Date: 4 Mar 2023
Venue: Drama Centre Black Box
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