>for the pleasure of seeing her again by w!ld rice

>reviewed by kenneth kwok

>date: 24 aug 2004
>time: 8pm
>venue: the victoria theatre
>rating: **1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


W!ld Rice has never failed to impress me. You watched 'Boeing Boeing' You know what I'm talking about. So maybe it was the high expectations I was going in with but as I sat there watching FOR THE PLEASURE OF SEEING HER AGAIN, I felt terribly disappointed and disengaged.

I was ready with my tissue paper at the start. PLEASURE was all set up to be a heart-warming, down-to-earth tale about a gritty Everymother. Ivan Heng as the narrator starts off his recollections of his life with his mother by listing all the grand, dramatic characters of stage through the centuries that his mother (Na Na, as played Neo Swee Lin) is not like. The programme also goes on at length to emphasise how real the character of Na Na has appeared to be to audiences in America and Canada.

But this was not my Na Na.

>>'This was not my Na Na. Maybe it was many other people's - and I have to say that many in the audience clearly seemed to enjoy the production - but it was certainly not mine.'

Maybe it was many other people's - and I have to say that many in the audience clearly enjoyed the production - but it was certainly not mine. The character was created such that you should find her booming vitality and vivacity endearing, and then as the play progresses, you should see her more as a real person, hurt by life but always laughing at it, and you should think about your own mother's hidden strength and stoicism. But I had difficulty connecting this over-the-top Na Na who spends three quarters of the play careering from one outlandish story to the next with real people in my life.

Na Na, sadly, came across as a stock figure in a Christmas pantomime who was all laughs and little else, when really she should have been more like Albert Finney in the recent film 'Big Fish'. Both are parents telling fantastical stories to their son / daughter but Finney's moments of quietness and gravity gave his character the shade and texture that Na Na lacked here.

Much has been said about the final twist in the tale whereby the narrator delivers a last gift to his mother on her deathbed. The fourth wall is broken and the narrator tells his mother that she is in a theatre, and with a wave of his hand, a dream-like backdrop appears and a giant winged gondola is lowered onto the stage to take Na Na to heaven. Earlier in the play, the narrator had said that the Everymother is a character not deserving of high drama or a grand farewell into the sunset a la Cleopatra or Queen Victoria: she is just a woman like all others. This magical moment is supposed to illustrate his realisation that his mother - like all mothers - is actually so much more. However, theatrically, this does not work because from the start, Na Na has been a larger than life character already bordering on the cartoonish. The pomp of the final scene is therefore not the revelation that it could have or should have been.

Not that this was a mistake: it was clear that this is the tone that director Michael Dobbin and playwright Michel Tremblay had chosen to adopt - after all, Heng turned in a performance that was just as high in dramatics and low in subtlety, especially when playing a little boy in the flashbacks. But none of it worked for me, and although both acting performances were polished and professional and I suspect Life! Theatre Award nominations may be in the offing, I'm hoping for more truth and less affectation in their next outing.

>Read Jeremy's alternative review here.