Theatre review: The Way We Go, a sensitive depiction of life lessons in one's twilight years

Cast of The Way We Go. It is hard to describe Checkpoint Theatre's The Way We Go without drawing many parallels, rather philosophically, to life. -- PHOTO: CHONG YEW
Cast of The Way We Go. It is hard to describe Checkpoint Theatre's The Way We Go without drawing many parallels, rather philosophically, to life. -- PHOTO: CHONG YEW

It is hard to describe Checkpoint Theatre's The Way We Go without drawing many parallels, rather philosophically, to life.

Directed by Checkpoint's joint artistic director Claire Wong, the play is about the many lessons we learn in life and how, regardless of our age, we do not have all the answers to our questions.

Main character Agatha Mao (Lydia Look) crystallises this with painful sweetness - she may have been the perfectly-postured principal of the fictional convent school Our Lady Of Lourdes, but when her lover leaves her, she cannot fathom why and physically crumples.

That four of the five characters in the Joel Tan play are teachers helps to bring out this point sharply. Teaching goes beyond the classroom, though sometimes it is not always welcomed.

"Please don't teach me how to grieve, Violet," says Patrick Teoh's Edmund to his cousin, played by Neo Swee Lin, at the wake of Agatha.

And no, that is not a spoiler as we start the play at the foot of the formidable headmistress' coffin and try to figure out the pieces of who knows who from where.

You hardly feel the 90-minute run-time as the play goes backwards and forwards cycling through 12 years: fleshing out the relationships between Agatha and best friend Violet; Agatha and her intellectual partner Edmund; and Agatha's former students, Lee-Ying (Julie Wee) and Gillian (newcomer Chng Xin Xuan).

It is wonderful that playwright Tan, 27, shines the spotlight on the relationships of older characters, something you do not see enough of onstage.

It is a delight to watch Look, Neo and Teoh in action - every knowing smile, every teasing nudge, every barbed comment feels real and somehow familiar, like they are composites of people you know.

Malaysian actor Teoh seemed to struggle a little with nerves at the beginning, but settled in nicely into the grumpy yet well-meaning persona of Edmund.

In contrast, the younger characters are not as interesting, although it is through no fault of Chng and Wee. There simply seems to be less at stake for them.

The young lovers grow apart after being together for eight years and while their problems are real, you feel that there is light at the end of their tunnels.

Compare this to a fight scene between Agatha and Edmund - ostensibly over his choice of tie for a formal event, but actually touching on a heartbreaking realisation that they might end up alone in their twilight years.

Not everything in the play is, to borrow one of the character's choice adjective, "moribund". There are moments of levity even in the most solemn of settings, such as when Violet, a not-so-blushing bride at age 56, gets cold feet at her wedding.

"It's all middle aged and old people. It's like a funeral," she wails, teary eyed through her false eyelashes, as the audience guffaws.

And with the coffin remaining on stage throughout the play, death seems to be the sixth member of the cast. The play is peppered with terms which can convey meanings related to death, such as "cold feet". Even the title, The Way We Go, can allude to our inevitable end.

There was a beautiful rhythmic poetry to the ending - the three older characters speak, though not to one another, but their monologues tie together nicely like travelers meeting on their separate paths.

The last word uttered onstage is "hello". Though we know Agatha meets an untimely end, we'd like to believe that this means the old friends and lovers will meet once again in heaven.

nabilahs@sph.com.sg

The Way We Go (Advisory 16)

When: Till Nov 29, 8pm. Matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 3pm. No show on Mondays.

Where: SOTA Studio Theatre, Level 2

Admission: $35 (Go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)

Info: checkpoint-theatre.org