M1 Chinese Theatre Festival moves to Theatre Practice’s new Waterloo home

Fleet (above) and Mamma Luna are among the shows staged at the fifth edition of the M1 Chinese Theatre Festival this year.
Fleet (above) and Mamma Luna are among the shows staged at the fifth edition of the M1 Chinese Theatre Festival this year.PHOTO: THE THEATRE PRACTICE
Fleet and Mamma Luna (above) are among the shows staged at the fifth edition of the M1 Chinese Theatre Festival this year.
Fleet and Mamma Luna (above) are among the shows staged at the fifth edition of the M1 Chinese Theatre Festival this year.PHOTO: THEATRE DES ENFANTS TERRIBLES

Existential productions take the stage at the M1 Chinese Theatre Festival

The fleetingness of life and permanence of death will play out in a clutch of existential productions at the fifth edition of the M1 Chinese Theatre Festival this year, helmed by Singapore theatre company, The Theatre Practice.

Opening the festival is Fleet, a slow, meditative one-woman performance that plumbs the depths of mortality and asks if a corporeal death is also a spiritual one.

In Mamma Luna, a performance by Taiwanese director Huang Kai-lin, the moon becomes a metaphor for death. Chinese director Huang Ying is restaging his play To Be Continued, an absurdist romp about a girl's last day alive.

The productions are among the six shows and two other events in the festival's line-up.

  • BOOK IT / M1 CHINESE THEATRE FESTIVAL

  • WHERE: Practice Space, 54 Waterloo Street and Black Box at Centre 42, 42 Waterloo Street

    WHEN: Thursday till Aug 14, various times

    ADMISSION: $28 to $38 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to sistic.com.sg)

    INFO: www.practice.org.sg

The Theatre Practice's artistic director Kuo Jian Hong says the company did not intentionally programme the festival based on the themes of life and death.

"Theatre reflects life and is a way of looking at life and understanding it. To live is to know that you will die. So there is this curiosity from a lot of artists about such a topic," she says with a laugh.

For theatre practitioners Janice Sze and Melissa Leung, it was the pain of losing a loved one recently that raised questions about life and death and led them to co-create Fleet.

Hong Konger Leung, 39, education director at The Theatre Practice, approached Chinese director Liu Xiaoyi, who is known for his experimental, non-linear approach to theatre, to work on the piece. Liu directed The Struggle: Years Later, a re-adaptation of late theatre pioneer Kuo Pao Kun's 1969 play The Struggle, at last year's festival.

  • Shows to catch

  • From intimate black box plays to children's productions that involve music and puppetry, The Straits Times checks out four must-see productions at the M1 Chinese Theatre Festival, which kicks off on Thursday.

    FLEET

    This performance, which meditates on life and death, was conceived by theatre practitioners Janice Sze and Melissa Leung, who have each lost a loved one. They created it with the help of director Liu Xiaoyi, who also directs. Where: Black Box at Centre 42, 42 Waterloo Street When: Thursday to July 31; 8pm (Tuesday to Friday), 3 and 8pm (Saturday), 3pm (Sunday) Admission: $38

    DAY I MET THE PRINCE

    Late theatre doyen Kuo Pao Kun's adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupery's classic The Little Prince returns. The Theatre Practice's artistic director Kuo Jian Hong directs actors Gloria Ang, Windson Liong and Ng Mun Poh. Where: Practice Space, 54 Waterloo Street When: Thursday to July 31; 8pm (Tuesday to Friday), 3 and 8pm (Saturday), 3pm (Sunday) Admission: $28

    1 TABLE 2 CHAIRS EXPERIMENTAL SERIES

    This hews to the Chinese opera tradition of putting two performers on a stage with basic furniture and letting their imagination soar. It will feature Thai artists for the first time. Where: Black Box at Centre 42, 42 Waterloo Street When: Aug 4 and 5, 8pm; Aug 6, 3 and 8pm; Aug 7, 3pm Admission: $38

    MAMMA LUNA

    This performance by Taiwanese director and actress Huang Kai-lin uses a fable about the moon to explore themes of loneliness, doubt and terror that humans face when confronted with mortality. Where: Black Box at Centre 42, 42 Waterloo Street When: Aug 11 and 12, 8pm; Aug 13, 3 and 8pm; Aug 14, 3pm Admission: $38

    Tickets are available from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to sistic.com.sg).

    Lee Jian Xuan

This time, Liu, 33, is exploring the concept of qi, which is believed to be the life force or energy flow within a being in Chinese culture.

He says: "I thought of how when people die, their qi is transferred elsewhere. It's a more meaningful concept - you take on another form. So you feel more removed and you don't think death is a miserable affair.

"We want to have a connection with the audience as death is something we must all experience. In a way, death is what gives us new ideas about life and the motivation and courage to go on."

Huang Ying, 38, conceived his play To Be Continued in 2005, when he suffered from burnout from work. Co-written by Huang and playwright Wang Cailian, the play was staged in 2007 and has since travelled all over China. Tickets for it are sold out.

"I was inspired by the 15th-century Middle English allegorical play Everyman, in which Death comes to take the character Everyman, who begs for more time. It applies to city dwellers today who lead such hectic lives.

"What if Death gave you one day to live to find something in your life that mattered, and if you couldn't find it, you'd have to relive your last day over and over? Perhaps in that state of impermanence, one can find the answer," he says.

Self-discovery is also at the heart of two plays targeted at families and children, namely Flying Group Theatre's The Day Of Growing Up from Taiwan and The Theatre Practice's Day I Met The Prince, an adaptation of the French classic The Little Prince.

Says The Day Of Growing Up director Shih Pei-yu, 46: "We always talk about being a grown-up. But at what stage are we considered grown up? What's the end point? We leave it to the audience to find the answers."

The Theatre Practice won the inaugural Best Production for the Young award at this year's M1-The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards for The Wee Question Mark And The Adventurer - A Children's Musical.

Kuo Jian Hong says: "We strongly believe such content is not just for children, but also parents and schools. Witnessing something live together can be a shared experience for them as much as eating, shopping and going to the movies."

For the first time, the festival will run at the company's new premises at 54 Waterloo Street after it moved this year from Stamford Arts Centre, its home for close to three decades.

"Some productions will be staged at our new black box theatre, so audiences can look forward to that as well," says Kuo.

As the festival progresses into its fifth run, she maintains that it will stick to its core mission to bring quality Chinese black box theatre to audiences as well as foster dialogue with international artists.

She says: "Black box democratises the relationship with audiences as they are right there with you. It also gives more freedom to the theatremakers as it doesn't require so much money and resources and we don't have to worry about filling big houses."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 19, 2016, with the headline 'Confronting death'. Print Edition | Subscribe